Two Minnesota teenagers created a new app to address the youth mental health crisis

INTERVIEWER: By now, you probably know that teenagers in this country are facing a full-blown mental health crisis. The American Academy of Pediatrics and Children’s Hospital Association has declared a national state of emergency for children’s mental health. Two young people came up with an idea about preventing mental health crises by helping other young people become more aware of their feelings.

Tara Verma is a high school senior in Edina, and she is here with her creative partner Siena Pradhan, who is in Massachusetts. They launched an app called Feel Now earlier this year. Tara and Siena, welcome.

TARA VERMA: Hi. Thank you

INTERVIEWER: Come on, thank you for being– both of you, thanks for being here. I appreciate it. You launch this app. I have to see it in person. It’s pretty smooth. Before I ask you, however, about the detours, I’d like to hear why you think about helping young people with their emotional well-being, in the first place. Come on, do you want to take that?

TARA VERMA: Yeah, so, first, thank you very much for giving us this opportunity. So this idea came to me after my own personal experiences in therapy. And one technique we will use in my sessions is to start by identifying what emotions I was feeling at the time.

And I felt that it was a good grounding experience and just helped me be more in tune with my feelings and thus, helped me then know what to do with them. And so I thought that if it was useful for me, I’m sure it would be useful for many other teams that, unfortunately, may not have had the privilege of receiving the mental health care that was done I.

INTERVIEWER: And Siena, why make an app? Is it an easier way to express it to people?

TARA VERMA: Yes. I think, especially when you’re targeting your audience at teenagers, the apps– people are always on their phone. It’s an easy, efficient way to get it out there and also, make sure people keep using the app. So one of the main features of the app is that it sends a notification at any point of the day. And then you can check in at that exact moment. And so we’re making sure that this app is really targeted at teenagers and making sure that they’re examining themselves and using those social media aspects to do good for teenagers.

INTERVIEWER: OK, so let me see if I got this right. And then, Tara, join in if you want. So if I’m sad, let’s say I’m sad. You chose that emotion, right? Then you just name what you feel? So you are aware, right?

TARA VERMA: Yes. So what we did is we actually wanted to get a little bit more specific than just, I’m sad. But what kind of sadness exactly do you feel? So there are options, just as you feel sad. You feel angry, but you don’t just feel angry. You are disgusted with yourself. You feel isolated, things like that, where it’s a little more specific than you feel bad, you feel good; and so really honing in on what, specifically, are you feeling and maybe thinking about what that’s stemming from.

INTERVIEWER: I understand. Come on, how can your friends help you? So if you name your feelings, can you ask others for help?

TARA VERMA: So actually, that was one feature we were thinking about. And you can have friends in the app. However, the difference here, compared to other apps, is that you don’t share your specific emotions with your friends. Because often, what we’ve seen is that there can be an unhealthy trust between friends over their mental health. And we don’t want teenagers to feel the weight of other people’s emotions, especially every day for many friends.

So we don’t really have an emotion sharing feature. We hope that when a person is more in tune with their own feelings, they can take some steps for themselves. And they can share those feelings, obviously, with friends, but not through the app directly.

INTERVIEWER: Sure, That makes sense, so as not to be burdened by other people’s emotions. But if you need to have more help, how would you like to be contacted?

SIENA PRADHAN: Yes.

INTERVIEWER: Siena or–

SIENA PRADHAN: So yes, I can answer that.

INTERVIEWER: Sure.

SIENA PRADHAN: So the friends in the app also just show that you have a support system. So you can always contact the friends you have in the app, contact your parents, contact a school counselor, if you feel that sad or angry or anxious emotions are going on for a long time period. And we highly recommend that you do.

But for the purposes of the app, it’s really about adapting yourself and holding yourself accountable. And so make sure your friends check themselves, but not knowing what they feel is how we want to do that, especially sometimes, I don’t want to share all my feelings with my friends. But I just want to make sure they’re there for me and they know I’m taking care of myself. And so that should be the purpose of the app.

INTERVIEWER: You’re also–

TARA VERMA: And in terms of–

INTERVIEWER: All right.

TARA VERMA: Oh, sorry. you go.

INTERVIEWER: No, okay Tara. Go for it.

TARA VERMA: OK. So what we also think about getting help is often, I feel like people only get help when it’s not too late, but when their mental health has gotten so bad that it’s useful for them to get help sooner. And so what we expect is what Siena says. If you encounter constant sadness, constant anxiety that– obviously, these emotions happen to all of us.

But if you notice that pattern, that could be something that could lead to more preventive intervention, rather than almost waiting until it’s too late. And so we hope that that will allow individuals to seek that help sooner rather than later.

INTERVIEWER: OK, yes. So I’m wondering here about– there’s still so much stigma today around mental health issues, right? How might this app work to reduce some of that stigma? Siena, what do you think of that?

SIENA PRADHAN: I think the best way to reduce that stigma is to bring it out into everyday life and not have it be some kind of taboo subject and not have to be some kind of big deal, but more yet with this app you really intend to check in with yourself every day. And the repetitive nature and making sure that you’re really hanging in there and you’re doing it for yourself is the best way that, I think, we can reduce the stigma.

If everyone just checked themselves, that would greatly benefit mental health, in general, and also, just reduce the stigma of being lonely. Because sometimes that happens to everyone. But as long as it’s not a recurring sadness, like Tara mentioned earlier, then that feeling is okay.

INTERVIEWER: Look, you’ve emphasized that this app is especially important for communities of color. Tell me a little more about that.

TARA VERMA: Yeah, so coming both of us from South Asian families, I feel there is a lot of stigma around negative emotions. And that stigma tends to manifest itself in terms of just denial. But we’re hoping, if it starts with yourself– and maybe parents using the app too, siblings, that if everyone can check in on their feelings, that will hopefully facilitate discussions. about our feelings.

My parents often ask me, how was your day? how are you feeling And I think those conversations can often be awkward or uncomfortable. But hopefully, if it becomes a more routine practice, then we can avoid some of that awkwardness, and we can have more productive family-to-family discussions about emotions. And that will help with disagreements and other things like that.

INTERVIEWER: Sure. So last question for you two, how is it? I mean, how are the downloads? What is its uptake? What was the reaction? What are you hearing?

TARA VERMA: Yes, so we really–

SIENA PRADHAN: It’s going great, yeah. So it will be great. We have over– almost 7,000 downloads, I think, in the App Store right now. And it spans six continents. I think Tara has some more detailed statistics about which countries those are, which we found really interesting, though.

TARA VERMA: Yes, we have a lot of users in Burkina Faso. We have users, obviously, in Australia, India, Nepal, some countries in East Asia, Mexico. I do not know. We have countries all over the world. I think it’s about 6,900 across the Google Play Store and App Store. I think most of those come from App Store downloads. But it’s great to see the app progress and spread.

INTERVIEWER: Wow. Well, that’s really awesome. Congratulations to both of you.

SIENA PRADHAN: Thank you very much.

INTERVIEWER: And thanks for taking the time to talk to me. All the best. All the best in the future. Thanks a lot.

TARA VERMA: Thank you very much for having us.

SIENA PRADHAN: Thank you.

INTERVIEWER: We’re talking to high school seniors Tara Verma, from Edina, and Siena Pradhan, from Massachusetts. If you or someone, by the way, you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts or mental health issues, you can always call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988.

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