Stories of Survivors Matter But So Do The Numbers

My thoughts ahead of International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day …

Rensselaer County Suicide Prevention Task Force

Next Saturday, November 18, 2017, is International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.  This a day for those to gather and remember loved ones we have lost to suicide. It was once thought the for every death by suicide, six people were effected. Renowned suicidiologist Ed Schneiderman famously made this estimate.  Since then data and science has helped up come to greater understanding of how many people are effected by a suicide.

This past week was the International Suicide Research Summit in Las Vegas, Nevada. Part of the summit was dedicated to the impact of suicide on communities.  Dr. Juile Cerel presented research that expands on a growing body of evidence the impact of suicide has. That those who felt the strongest impact to the loss, this  was more likely to have depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, prolonged grief, and suicide ideation.

In addition to this, a review of 18 studies…

View original post 209 more words


What is An API and Why It Matters to Social Work

Technology is making the world shrink and this is good thing for social work.  The more we can use technology to increase connectivity, the better.  Technology between this blog and other apps and services exists but quite honestly I have no idea how this works.  My interest in technology has lead me to want to learn a little more.

It turns out the “secret sauce” is what is called an API or Application Program Interface.  Googling information about this was quite overwhelming but I highly recommend your take the little under four minutes to understand what API’s are via  this MuleSoft video ….


You might be wondering, what does this have to do with social work? While some might be figuring this out and some might be tuning out a bit. You might be thinking, there is no way I am going to be programming. It’s an important bit of information technology we should, at best, be simply aware of.  To ponder how things can connect and this code can be plugged in to shrink the world is important. Social work should be a voice in developing these solutions.

The next level might be (where I am) is how to you get disparate systems within social work, healthcare, etc… to talk to each other?  Well… it gets complicated.  As a care manager there are three systems I enter data into. There is a medicaid database for enrollment, one for an initial assessment, and one for the electronic health record. The only one way connectivity between the three is the enrollment database “talks” to the EHR a bit.  But the initial assessment (about 50 question check boxes updated every six months) doesn’t talk to either.

These barriers seem to be at the state and regulatory level (way above my pay grade).  These are the things program designers and regulators should be thinking about. It is my experience they are not. As the MuleSoft video points out how can we create “butlers” or “concierges” between these systems. I would like to re-frame it and say that desperate electronic systems need social workers.

One of the companies that specializes in increasing connectivity between healthcare systems is Redox Engine. Earlier this week I ran across their blog post which talked about the unique challenges of creating API’s for connectivity.  If we are talking about HIPAA protected data then systems need to develop legal and security understandings.  There are other considerations such as narrowing the vast amounts of data between systems and make them usable for billing/clinical care.

Another project worth noting is Open Referral. They are attempting to “develop data standards and open platforms that make it easy to share and find information about community resources”.

These are conversations that social work should be at the table for.  We are oexperts in getting complex real life systems to talk to each other. We should be a voice in developing code to get systems to talk to each other.  So make friends with the people in the IT department, talk about barriers to connectivity. Get on the committees at work seeking to drive these solutions. Seek out people that are solving these problems. Be a voice for policy and regulatory changes.  Or for the really ambitious learn the coding yourself or partner with an information technologist to develop your own solution.

Technology continues to offer bright future for our work, however social work needs to be part of the solution. Having a butler between technology services is nice but having a social worker is better.



What Therapists (Ok, Just this One) Are Saying About Mental Health Chatbots

Earlier this summer, articles about “WoeBot” took social media by storm. Or at least in the mental health and technology circles I hang with. And in case you missed it the WoeBot is a automated chatbot that checks on you daily and offers some “sessions” in cognitive behavioral therapy. It was again brought up on Facebook and I sort of dismissed it. My gut reaction is there is no way that robot could replace a therapist and if it did. It would be rather clunky.

A robot doing therapy would probably look something like this. It would give a try but fall a bit short…


I thought about writing a blog post based on this GIF alone but wanted to do more research. Life happened and I moved on to other things.  But a recent conversation on twitter renewed this topic for me and helped me refine my message…


Other joined and shared some other thought provoking resources…


The above articles and resources provided some more “use cases” for chat bots in both healthcare and mental health.  This helped tip the scale for me.  I am certainly more open the possibility of chatbots for mental health. Still maintaining my stance that technology can be an adjunct to treatment but not a full on replacement.

I think the WoeBot can be good adjunct to therapy.  There could be two very useful scenarios.  One would be those who are placed on a wait-list. To start some WoeBot sessions to get a sense of what CBT is like and if it is a good fit. The data that is generated can be useful for the first actual session.  Similar to previous posts I have argued that data generated by using technology can create a “sitting around the campfire” talking about it scene. You can go into the session and talk about what you and WoeBot did.

The other useful scenario is as a bridge between therapy sessions. That again the conversation with the WoeBot can reinforce the face to face relationship with the therapist. Also thinking about how a WoeBot can be part of somebody’s discharge plan. That after you are done with therapy then use the WoeBot to reinforce things. If one does not feel like the WoeBot is enough they can promptly return to therapy.

Image Credit: WoeBot.IO


I continue to be enthused about mental health apps. However I remain cautious of these being stand alone treatments.  Yes there are not enough therapists and psychiatrists. Yes we need to do something different. And no mental health professionals don’t have to run the other way from technology.  We should be embracing mental health apps as our assists.  In the case of WoeBot our virtual assistant.  It would be in the interest of therapists and maybe insurance companies to take a deeper dive into this technology to see how we can make therapy a more active than a passive experience.


I would love to know your thoughts on this topic. Please feel free to comment below, yell at me on twitter @StuckOnSW, or email me at