Teen Suicide Attempt Survivor Now Helps Others By Building Life-Saving Apps

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Teen Suicide Attempt Survivor Now Helps Others By Building Life-Saving Apps

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Once overwhelmed by depression and anxiety, Amanda Southworth saw no end to her misery and attempted to kill herself multiple times. What changed her life was an introduction to technology through a sixth-grade robotics course. She went on to develop a love of coding and created her first app, AnxietyHelper, in 2015, which provides information, resources, and tools for kids suffering from mental health issues like she did.

At the age of 16, she has dropped out of high school and started her own software company, Astra Labs, a non-profit funded by donors and a $25,000 grant from the TOMS Social Entrepreneurship Fund.

In an inspiring TedX talk she gave in 2017 from Pasadena, California, she began, “My name is Amanda Southworth, I’m 15 years old, a junior in high school and I’m still alive.”

 

Q&A

1. Tell us how you were inspired to create your AnxietyHelper App and what does it do?

In 2014, [the coding program] Swift was introduced to the programming world. For me, this was huge. I was into app development for a while, but developing apps required the use of a programming language called Objective-C. To me, Objective-C, even as someone whose programming skills were rooted in C-based languages, was probably the most terrifying thing I have ever laid eyes on. Swift was introduced as something that was simple, easy and fast to learn. I never fully got into app development, but in the summer of 2015, I got to be one of the first ever Kode With Karlie scholars. It took me to a web development course in Venice Beach, California.

Right before I went on the course, I got out of a really bad time in my life. I was just starting my freshman year of high school. I had panic attacks every day and had depression following me around since elementary school. I had this image of myself in my head as someone who was pretty worthless. When I got to this course, I was just beginning to realize how bad my problems were, and how badly myself and others have treated me. I was confused. I was sad. But mostly, I was angry. I needed an outlet, and I reached to music. I fell in love with Fall Out Boy, Twenty One Pilots, and My Chemical Romance. I would blast those songs in my headphones, and let the music feel all emotions for me. And the message that those bands spread stuck with me, and it will for the rest of my life. There’s a saying I live by, and it’s “be the person you needed when you were younger.” For me, my bands and music were that person. But, I wanted to give something to others so they wouldn’t have to search for a reason to live as long as I did. That’s what my first app, AnxietyHelper, did. It created a place that I desperately needed as a young kid. As I got more into development, it became my platform. For some, it’s Instagram, Youtube, or art and makeup. But for me, it was my apps. Whenever I see something that desperately needs to be changed, I create an app for it. AnxietyHelper works by providing information, resources, and tools regarding mental health. It means the user can learn about mental health, find outside help for it, and use the app to cope with the daily challenges.

2. How you did the tech world change your life?

As I got more into development, it became my platform. Whenever I see something that desperately needs to be changed, I create an app for it. And it’s now my job to do that. It’s pretty amazing to say that I get to do my childhood dream every day at the age of 16. Not only that, but it’s completely changed the way I think about solving problems. I can do anything with technology. It’s utterly amazing, and I’m incredibly grateful to be able to wake up and do what I love.

3. Why is an app like AnxietyHelper so important in today’s society? Can you give an example of how it has saved lives?

AnxietyHelper is important because it’s a solution to a problem that a lot of people face. Although we may have many solutions, it’s apparent none of them are going to the depth they need to in order to solve the problem. Unfortunately, I’m not able to be too specific about the situations in which people come to me because I value their confidentiality. I’ve had so many people personally contact me and let me know that the app helped them in some way, whether it stopped their panic attacks, got them to the suicide hotline, or let them vent in a constructive way.

4. What is Astra Labs and how is it saving lives, helping others?

Astra Labs is my non-profit 501(c)3 software development company that I started with my best friend, Coleman Oates.  We made it because we saw a gap in where technology was going and where it needed to be. We see startups for EVERYTHING. But it seems like people that could use it the most are ignored by the tech sector. Even when they aren’t, sometimes the products are out of the reach of the people who need them because of problems with pricing, accessibility, and other features that would allow their products to fully make the impact they could. That’s why we made Astra Labs. We make free, accessible software for everyone. We don’t profit. We don’t sell your data. We don’t show you ads. Our only purpose is to help the people who need it.

5. How What advice can you give teens going through depression right now?

Just hold on. It seems like everything is awful right now. And it probably is. But you can’t base how the rest of your life is going to turn out based on what you feel in the moment. A trick that I use when I’m anxious is to take things slow. Only focus on the next 5 minutes. That’s all you have to do. Stay alive for 5 minutes. And then when those 5 minutes are up, focus on staying alive the next 5 minutes. It’s rather easy to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, but you don’t have to. Just take it 5 minutes at a time.

For more information about Astra Labs, go to withastra.com/about.

This essay was featured in the June 24th edition of The Sunday Paper, Maria Shriver’s free weekly newsletter for people with passion and purpose. To get inspiring and informative content like this piece delivered straight to your inbox each Sunday morning, click here to subscribe.

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