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April 27th, 2009
STEPS - Using Technology to Find Troubled Teens

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That’s the theory behind STEPS – Screening, Treatment, and Education to Promote Strength – a first-of-its-kind virtual mental health initiative for teens and their parents.

Created by New York University’s Christopher P. Lucas, an Associate Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, STEPS aims to reduce risk of suicide and school violence through online education, self-help and screening. The voluntary, school-based program features a Web site for both teens and parents accessible at school or at home. On each site, visitors can find scientific information, chat around the clock with online clinicians and with each other, and participate in a confidential suicide questionnaire.
Since its launch last fall in two New York high schools, STEPS is already showing signs of success – with membership numbers nearly doubling. Lucas says he hopes the program will attract at-risk teens not only with its wealth of information, but also with its edgy style and interactive features.

“STEPS is really the result of seeing what works and what does not work in the suicide prevention field and really trying to leverage the power of technology and the way that teenagers relate to each other,” says Lucas.

While STEPS is currently being studied in only five schools in New York State, Lucas and his colleagues hope  to introduce STEPS to at least a dozen high schools by the end of this year.  They believe that successful intervention with teens who are at risk can be achieved by improving the mental health of an entire student population.

“The goal at the end of this is to get people to seek help,” Lucas says.

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