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SuperBetter Shifts Focus To Strengthening Players’ Mental Health

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San Francisco-based startup SuperBetter Labs is shifting the focus of its namesake social game to focus on strengthening mental resiliency, a decision that coincides with the release of its iPhone app and launch of clinical trials.

Rose Broome, who became SuperBetter’s data scientist by way of Inigral, explained that the choice to focus on users’ efforts to combat anxiety, stress, and depression was based on reactions from its 125K registered players. The game launched at SXSW earlier this year with a variety of topics, from dealing with divorce to keeping an apartment clean, that players can turn into challenges while enlisting the support of personal and anonymous allies. Mental wellness categories, including lowering stress and managing pain, have earned the highest user engagement and most “epic wins” among the challenges.

Even with experts estimating that as much as a quarter of people will report a mental health problem over their lifetimes, tech and web-based game offerings have been limited. The American Psychological Association recommends that communicating with friends and family is a healthy way to deal with stress. “This is a tool to help people lower stress and be happier and more productive,” said CEO John Solomon. “It’s about perspective change.”

As the Quantified Self movement earns more practitioners, SuperBetter is looking to differentiate itself from other apps and tools in the behavior-change space (think Lift and Everest among others) as well as provide utility for people who are either already being treated or have never been in therapy. The app is not recommended for people with severe bipolar disorders.

The collaborative health company was co-founded by “Reality is Broken” author and game designer Jane McGonigal who wanted to invent a way out of the suicidal and depressive thoughts she was having after a traumatic brain injury. Her TED talk about the origin of the game has earned more than 1 million views.

Starting in October the University of Pennsylvania is to begin randomized control trials using SuperBetter with new players with mild depressive symptoms who own iPhones. Pending final IRB approval, the work with nearly 100 participants will be led by Ann Marie Roepke of the Positive Psychology Center under Dr. Marty Seligman, pioneer in the field of positive psychology. Participants will be exposed to various conditions, including interacting with a “power pack” content bundle based on cognitive behavior therapy or content created around the idea of “being awesome.”

In its work to utilize “the science of personal and social well-being,” SuperBetter is hoping to partner with large hospital groups and health organizations for distribution and potentially employee care. On the consumer side, it says an Android app is in demand and under consideration for the future.