Free app developed by UW-Madison hopes to help Wisconsinites cope during pandemic

NOW: Free app developed by UW-Madison hopes to help Wisconsinites cope during pandemic

MILWAUKEE, Wis. (CBS 58)- Milwaukee area doctors say anxiety, depression, suicide and domestic violence are all on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic, but a free app launched by UW-Madison on Monday hopes to help Wisconsinites cope.

“We’ve seen an increase in our EMS calls for overdoses and an increase for our calls in suicides during the pandemic in Milwaukee County,” said Dr. Ben Weston with Milwaukee’s Office of Emergency Management.

Developers say the ‘Wisconsin Connect’ app has already gotten thousands of downloads by mid-day Monday. It’s designed to create discussions about living during a pandemic, and provide resources for people who need help.

“Rather than asking people to pay for and download a bunch of different apps, we have a free one that’s sort of like a Swiss Army knife,” said Mike Wagner, a journalism professor at UW-Madison.

The Wisconsin Connect app was developed in six weeks from start to finish by UW-Madison’s Center for Health Enhancement System Studies and its partners.

The app is a place for Wisconsinites to have discussions with health expert moderators about living in a pandemic. It also has a fact checker to make sure people have accurate information and a mental health aspect where people can learn tips to release anxiety and stress.

“To have a set of discussion boards and say here’s what I’m struggling with today, what have you done that works? Or to say we had a win today, here’s what we tried, could be something that’s useful for someone else,” adds Wagner.

The app also provides resources for people in domestic violence situations or battling addiction, and users can remain anonymous.

“They never have to reveal anything about themselves,” said Wagner. “For those who want to I suppose they could, but most people I think are more comfortable being anonymous.”

Neuroscientist Dr. Richard Davidson helped to develop the app’s meditation practices for stress.

“We can engage in these kinds of practices and it will completely help us to reframe what we’re doing right now and make it much more acceptable,” said Dr. Richard Davidson, Founder of UW-Madison’s Center for Healthy Minds.

Dr. Davidson says during the pandemic it is important people focus on appreciation and generosity with ourselves and others. Developers hope the app will unite Wisconsinites through the COVID-19 pandemic.

 “That’s something that can warm the heart and open the heart and it doesn’t take much to completely change our psychological state,” Dr. Davidson adds.

“I think that the feature that’s most useful for you might just be depending on the day,” said Wagner. “Some days you might just need to reach out and get some advice on the discussion board and other days you might wonder how the coronavirus is spreading.”

For now users have to use the app by visiting the Wisconsin Connect website on their desktop or smartphone. It will be available on app stores later this week. To visit the app, click here.

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