Imagine being able to get help with anxiety or depression 24/7. Imagine your conversation being confidential and anonymous. Imagine the help you get being free.
In response to COVID-19, Catholic Charities of South Carolina has made Sister Hope available on demand, simply by texting.
Developed by ministry professionals and clinical psychologists, Sister Hope is supported by chatbot technology and deals with everyday stress, anxiety and depression.
If the user is in serious crisis, Sister Hope will encourage the user to take other steps, such as calling 911 or the suicide hotline.
James Kaiser, the director of Catholic Charities of South Carolina, said “The chatbot technology uses self-learning artificial intelligence, meaning the more a person chats, the more Sister Hope learns how to help.”
So far, the service, which is the product of a technology company called X2A1, has helped more than 13 million people in nine languages worldwide in the last eight years.
Rocio Maldonado, site administrator of Catholic Charities of South Carolina, said the service has been proven to reduce depression by 18% and anxiety by 23%.
To get started, a person simply texts “Hi” to Sister Hope at 315-276-3157, or can message her at https://www.facebook.com/SisterHopeSC.
“This is a mental health ministry designed to deal with the everyday challenges people have,” Kiser explained.
People are dealing with things such as homeschooling, losing jobs and being forced to stay at home for the first time, he said. Sister Hope offers suggestions and practices to help users deal with such things.
Kiser explained there are more than 2 million pre-recorded conversations included in the service.
“Sister Hope will read and understand what a person texts and will interact in that format,” he said.
Maldonado said Sister Hope is the software that the service uses, and she – or it – “is able to empathize with the user’s feelings.
“She gathers the user’s feelings and the user’s background and general information. Sister Hope is very advanced.”
The version of this technology is what Kiser called “the Catholic version,” and is faith-based.
Maldonado explained that Catholic terminology is limited so that the help is applicable to anyone of any faith.
“This service is mostly secular but because it is faith-based, she will provide spiritual guidance if needed.”
Sister Hope will encourage users to pray, but “that’s as far as she goes,” Maldonado said.
“This helps people educate themselves about how to work through stress, anxiety and other problems, and the technology is cutting edge,” Kiser said.
No one from the Catholic church or any service will ever have access to any conversation Sister Hope has had.
Kiser said this service is not designed for people who need to go into formal counseling. It is instead intended to be preventative, giving people tools to keep their issues from becoming more serious.
It will hopefully help the underserved and vulnerable demographic, Kiser said, adding that even the homeless population can use this service, simply by texting.
“It will listen, it will help, it’s like having a conversation with a real person.
“It’s preventative and proactive and is a cheerleader to help people get through their day,” he said.