Student-created apps tackle declining mental health
June 8, 2021
University students are creating apps to help support mental health in young adults as researchers find more and more evidence for depression and anxiety during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Nolan Clarke, rising junior in Engineering and student in the Hoeft Technology and Management Program, has jump-started an app named Vrtumind with his peers.
“Vrtumind is an iOS app that helps people achieve their desired goals via (artificial intelligence)-prescribed mental health sessions,” Clarke said. “These sessions can be exercises, videos, meditations, etc. and the app uses an algorithm to determine which will be the most beneficial to a user every time they log in. Eventually, once the algorithm knows enough about how to optimize for happiness, we hope to apply it to do things like improve social media platforms.”
The app, now available on iOS devices, has been in construction for more than 20 months. It was not a smooth development process, with restarts and changes in ideas pushing the team to find new methods to tackle the project.
“We were fortunate enough to raise some money to hire a couple PhD students studying AI, which helped our timeline,” Clarke said.
The team experienced the pandemic’s toll on student life and sought inspiration and guidance from professional sources and University programs.
“For students at UIUC, I would say taking advantage of resources is crucial,” Clarke said.“From COZAD to TECSV to Founders to iVenture, there is a ton of beneficial programs and events that can teach you about entrepreneurship and help you get your venture on its feet.”
Other students have joined University of Illinois students in the effort to help regulate student stress. Natun Dasgupta, doctoral student at the University of Waterloo, and Vinay Guthal, full-time software developer at Google, designed the app Happyer to help regulate the stress students are increasingly enduring.
“It is a personal happiness tracker that helps you to identify which activities and friends improve your happiness through an easy and intuitive platform,” Dasgupta said. “It is based on research, a technique called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).”
The app launched in November on the iOS and Android devices, not too long after the idea’s conception in April 2020. The app is not completely finished, as the team aims to improve the interface and iron out remaining bugs, but they are nonetheless happy with the product.
“The goal was to get people to think about what makes them happy,” Dasgupta said. “As a result, we chose the name of the app as ‘Happyer.’”