Background: While many returning warriors report reintegration challenges, research shows only a minority seek psychological health care. To address this gap, the DoD launched a public health initiative, the Real Warriors Campaign, in 2009. The Real Warriors Campaign encourages audiences to seek appropriate psychological health care through an interactive/mobile website (www.realwarriors.net), radio/TV public service announcements, traditional & social media, a user-generated content app, materials, events and a vast partnership network.
Launched in September 2014, the Real Warriors app and responsive website (realstrength.realwarriors.net) is an online photo-sharing service available for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. This is important given peer support is a proven way to help warriors cope with invisible wounds. With the app and website, 24/7 resources are available, such as the Military Crisis Line where you can connect with a real person who can help. The concept was informed by mobile trends and five years of social media and website data. In line with Pew and Forrester research on young app users, the campaign’s Google Analytics/Facebook data demonstrated iOS is the most popular operating system among the campaign’s target audiences. Among mobile products geared to the military community, there are no mobile apps that encourage peer support. Therefore, designing a peer-to-peer support app experience presented an opportunity to fill an information need. From the campaign’s focus group research, service members want to see themselves, which is why it makes sense for the Real Warriors app to focus on positive, user-generated imagery. Accessible to everyone, the website is the social hub for this user-generated content where users take a photo, apply a campaign key message and a branded graphic filter that includes the realwarriors.net URL. The realstrength.realwarriors.net website – accessible on all devices – allows users to “salute” (i.e. like) and share peers’ photos, sort content and access 24/7 crisis resources for concerns like suicide. The website is updated regularly through user-generated photos, monthly photo challenges and cross-promotion via social media.
Evaluation Methods and Results: The campaign gains unstructured feedback through informal user testing at events, including Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program events, hosted for service members, veterans and military families to consistently access live feedback and evaluate the app among users and target audiences. Since launch, the app has garnered a four star rating on the App Store, 1,100 downloads, 19,238 video PSA views, and 2,700 salutes to 360 user-submitted photos.
Conclusions: This integrated solution creates awareness for the campaign and 24/7 support resources such as the Military Crisis Line, facilitate positive social media conversations and drive traffic to realwarriors.net. These outcomes facilitate health literacy among target audiences.
Implications for research and/or practice: Mental health care is estimated to cost the world-wide economy $16 trillion by 2030. When it comes to mental health services, mobile technologies offer privacy, portability and 24/7 access to assistance – three factors which are paramount to patients seeking care. The campaign developed this peer support app to fulfill a need to facilitate access to care for psychological health concerns for military populations.