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In yet another demonstration of how tech companies can help solve America’s most pressing health challenges, social media firm, Pinterest is rolling out emotional well-being activities to help users manage stress and anxiety and to deal with sadness.
Pinterest developed the guided activities in collaboration with emotional health experts at Brainstorm, the Stanford Lab for Mental Health Innovation, and with advice from Vibrant Emotional Health and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
“Over the years we’ve worked with experts to make it easy for people in distress to access supportive resources. Together we wanted to create a more compassionate, actionable experience that tries to address a broader emotional spectrum of what Pinners (Pinterest users) may be looking for,” Pinterest Product Manager, Annie Ta, said in a statement.
The activities, which take a few minutes to do, include breathing and self-compassion exercises. Pinterest explained that each practice offers users an interactive way to try to improve their mood –– from tools to help someone relax to self-compassion exercises.
Pinterest calls the new function “compassionate search,” which it says is a recognition and response to its users’ needs. “We didn’t just decide to throw this in the app. We decided to put it in the app because people are already searching for these things so much,” Ta was quoted saying.
The emotional well-being activities will first be launched in the U.S. in the coming weeks iOS and Android (version 7.25) apps, with Pinterest saying they will spread the function to other parts of the world in the future.
Ta said users will see a prompt to explore these activities when they search for things like “stress quotes,” “work anxiety” or other terms that indicate they might be feeling down.
“People come to Pinterest to discover ideas, get inspired and focus on themselves, their interests, their futures. One of the main ways people find inspiration is through search, from summer activities to try to [find] creative ways to express yourself. But we know that life isn’t always so inspiring, and things on the internet aren’t either,” Ta said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that one in two Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime.
To put this into context, Ta said last year alone, there were millions of searches in the U.S. related to emotional health on Pinterest.
A quick caveat, though: the experience is not meant to replace professional care, but it may help someone who needs support, Ta said. The company said it will continue to direct users to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if they search for self-harm related topics.
Ta said the wellness activity function was one of the new things that Pinterest was trying out to make the social media platform “an inspiring and welcoming place for everyone.” The goal, Ta continued, was to “meet people where they are and connect them with tools they can take with them offline and do in their real lives at any time. We will continue to improve the experience, work with more health experts and make these resources available to even more people around the world.”
What of privacy issues? Pinterest explained that the wellness resources look different from the rest of Pinterest, and would be kept separate.
“People’s interactions with these activities are private and not connected to their account. This means we won’t show recommendations or ads based on their use of these resources. Pinterest also does not track who uses them. All activity is stored anonymously using a third-party service,” the company said.
It is estimated that 18 percent of Americans experience an anxiety disorder annually. The World Health Organization estimates depression and anxiety cost the global economy $1 trillion a year.
The CDC further estimates that one in five Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year, one in five children either currently have, or at some point during their life had, a seriously debilitating mental illness and that one in 25 Americans currently lives with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.
Pinterest’s use of the search functionality follows that of Google, which earlier this year rolled out a Google Maps update showing users the nearest drug disposal location in an effort to address the opioid crisis. Like Pinterest, in January Google reported that it had seen a sharp increase in search queries for “medication disposal near me.”
Earlier this year, Big Health launched a mobile app to help reduce feelings of worry and anxiety. Pinterest’s new application is part of a rising wave of tech assistance for help with mental wellness.