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Denver-based WhiteFlag app offers peer-to-peer mental health support

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Posted at 4:14 PM, Sep 15, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-15 22:18:57-04

DENVER — This week is National Suicide Prevention Week. Loneliness and social isolation are some of the most common risk factors that can lead to death by suicide.

"A person’s closest social circle — peers, partners and family members — influences their behavior and contribute to their experience," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC states that mentoring and peer programs designed to "promote positive peer norms, problem-solving skills and promote healthy relationships" could help improve mental health outcomes.

A Denver-based app called WhiteFlag aims to help people who are struggling by connecting them with others.

When an app user raises the "white flag" on the app, it sends a signal to other users that they need supportive messages. When a user lowers the flag, they can offer support to other users.

The app was created by Jonny McCoy after he witnessed a suicide and felt himself begin to to spiral.

"My PTSD, my anxiety went haywire," he said.

McCoy went into a PTSD facility, where he tried to detox from the Xanax and Klonopin he used to cope with the pain. There, he first experienced peer-to-peer support. He received advice from someone who had also experienced withdrawal symptoms from the same substances.

"They were like, 'Are your teeth chattering? How are your nightmares? Are you bleeding?'" said McCoy.

He said learning a peer had survived the same experience gave him hope that he could survive it, too.

In 2020, a time when many people felt socially isolated, McCoy started to develop WhiteFlag to connect people with peer support they could quickly access on their phones.

"I personally do deal with a lot of like judgments from people," said Ollie Rose, who uses the app to connect with other mothers who face mental health struggles. "It's literally just a solidarity. It's knowing that you are not alone."

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts, help is available immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline can be reached by calling or texting 988 at any time of day. Colorado Crisis Services can also connect individuals with local support and resources, by calling 1-844-493-TALK.

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