Two Minnesota teens create new app to tackle youth mental health crisis

Interviewer: By now, you’re probably well aware that teens in this country are facing a full-blown mental health crisis. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association have declared a national emergency for children’s mental health. Two teens came up with the idea of ​​getting ahead of mental health crises by helping other young people become more aware of their emotions.

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

Tara Verma: Hello. Thank you.

Interviewer: Tara, thank you both for being here. I appreciate it. You launch this app. I got to see it in person. It is quite smooth. However, before I ask you about the ins and outs, I want to hear why you were thinking about helping teens with their emotional well-being. Tara, do you want that?

Tara Verma: Yeah, so, first of all, thank you very much for giving us this opportunity. So this idea came to my mind after my personal experiences in therapy. And one technique we would use in our sessions would be to start with identifying what emotions I was feeling at that moment.

And I thought that was a very grounding experience and helped me become more in tune with my emotions and, in that way, helped me figure out what to do with them. And so I thought if it was useful to me, I’m sure it would be useful to many other teams who, unfortunately, may not have had the privilege of receiving the mental health care that I received.

Interviewer: And Sienna, why created the app? Is this an easy way to get it out to people?

Tara Verma: Yes. I think, especially when you’re targeting your audience toward teens, apps—people are always around their phones. This is an easy, effective way to overcome this and also ensure that people are using the app consistently. So one of the main features of the app is that it sends a notification at any time of the day. And then you can check in right then and there. And so we’re making sure that this app is really targeted towards teens and making sure that they’re checking themselves and using those social media aspects to do good for teens.

Interviewer: Okay, so let me see if I got it right. And then, Tara, join in if you want. So if I’m feeling sad, admit that I feel sad. You choose that feeling, right? And then you’re just expressing how you feel? So you know about it, right?

Tara Verma: Yes. So what we did is we really wanted to be a little more specific, I’m sorry. But what kind of sadness are you really feeling? So there are options, like you’re feeling sad. You’re feeling angry, but you’re not just feeling angry. You feel disgusted with yourself. You’re feeling isolated, things like that, where it’s a little more specific that you’re feeling bad, you’re feeling good; And so really pay attention to what specifically you’re feeling and maybe think about what’s causing it.

Interviewer: Understood. Tara, how can your friends help you? So if you name your feeling, can you ask others for help?

Tara Verma: So actually, that was a feature we were thinking about. And you can have friends on the app. However, the difference here compared to other apps is that you don’t share your specific emotions with your friends. Because many times, we have seen that there can be an unhealthy dependency between friends on their mental health. And we didn’t want teens to potentially feel the burden of other people’s emotions, especially with potentially multiple friends every day.

So we don’t really have the luxury of sharing emotions. We’re hoping that when a person becomes more in tune with their feelings, they can take some action for themselves. And they can share those feelings with friends, apparently, but not directly through the app.

Interviewer: Sure, it makes sense, not to be burdened by some other people’s feelings. But if you need extra help, how would someone like to reach out?

Sienna Pradhan: Yes.

Interviewer: Sienna Ya–

Sienna Prime: So yes, I can answer that.

Interviewer: Sure.

Sienna Pradhan: So friends on the app also show that you have a support system. So, if you are feeling that these sad or angry or anxious feelings have persisted for a long time, you can always contact your friends on the app, contact your parents, contact the school counselor. can do. And we strongly recommend that you do so.

But for the purposes of the app, it’s really just for getting in tune with yourself and keeping yourself accountable. And so making sure that your friends are checking in themselves, but not necessarily knowing what they’re feeling and how we wanted to go about it, especially sometimes, I really want that. Don’t want to share everything I’m feeling. Friend. But I just want to make sure they’re there for me and they know I’m taking care of myself. And so that’s what the purpose of the app should have been.

Interviewer: You also–

Tara Verma: And with reference to–

Interviewer: Go ahead.

Tara Verma: Oh, sorry. Go.

Interviewer: No, go ahead, Tara. go ahead.

Tara Verma: Okay. So we were also thinking about getting help that a lot of times, I feel like people only get help once it’s not too late, but once their mental health gets bad enough to where their It would have been beneficial to get help earlier. And so we’re hoping for the same thing that Sienna was saying. If you notice persistent sadness, persistent anxiety – obviously, these feelings happen to all of us.

But if you notice that pattern, it’s probably something that could lead to more preventative intervention instead of waiting until it’s too late. And so we hope that this will help individuals get help as quickly as possible.

Interviewer: Okay, yes. So I’m wondering here – there’s still a lot of stigma around mental health issues today, right? How might this app work to reduce some of that stigma? Sienna, what do you think about it?

Sienna Pradhan: I think the best way to reduce that stigma is to bring it into everyday life and not make it some kind of taboo topic or make it some kind of big deal, but really This app should be used more. Your goal is to just check in with yourself every day. And that repetitive nature and making sure that you’re really sticking to it and doing it for yourself, I think, is the best way that we can reduce the stigma.

If everyone was just checking in with themselves, it could have huge benefits for mental health in general, and also, perhaps, reduce the stigma of being sad. Because this happens to everyone sometimes. But as long as it’s not persistent sadness, as Tara mentioned earlier, it’s okay to feel those emotions.

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

Tara Verma: Yeah, so we’re both from South Asian families, I feel like there’s a lot of stigma around negative emotions. And that stigma only manifests as denial. But we were hoping that if it started with ourselves – and maybe parents, siblings were also using the app, then if everyone was able to check in with their own feelings, then hopefully that would help our Discussing feelings can be easy.

My parents often ask me, how was your day? how are you feeling? And I think these conversations can often be awkward or uncomfortable. But hopefully, if this becomes a more regular practice, we can avoid some of that awkwardness, and we can have more productive family discussions about emotions. And it can also help with conflicts and things like that.

Interviewer: Sure. So last question for both of you, how’s it going? I mean, how are the downloads? What is the action on this? What is the reaction? what are you listening?

Tara Verma: Yeah, so we’re actually–

Sienna Prime: Yeah, it’s going great. So it’s going very well. I think we have about 7,000-plus downloads on the App Store right now. And it extends to six continents. I think Tara has some more detailed data on which countries we found really interesting.

Tara Verma: Yes, we have many users in Burkina Faso. Obviously we have users in Australia, India, Nepal, some countries in East Asia, Mexico. I don’t know. We have countries all over the world. I think it’s around 6,900 on Google Play Store and App Store. I think most of them are coming from App Store downloads. But it’s been really great to see the progress and spread of the app.

Interviewer: Wow. Well, that’s really impressive. Congratulations to both of you.

Sienna Pradhan: Thank you very much.

Interviewer: And thank you for taking the time to talk with me. All good. Best wishes for the future. thank you so much.

Tara Verma: Thank you so much for having us.

Sienna Pradhan: Thank you.

Interviewer: We’re talking to high school seniors Tara Verma from Edina and Sienna Pradhan from Massachusetts. If you or someone 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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