Two Minnesota teenagers are creating a new app to address the mental health crisis facing young people

INTERVIEWER: By now you’re probably well aware 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 emergency for children’s mental health. Two teenagers had the idea of ​​preventing mental health crises by helping other teenagers become more aware of their feelings.

Tara Verma is a middle schooler in Edina and 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: Tara, thank you for being – both of you, thank you for being here. I appreciate it. You launch this application. I had to see it in person. It’s pretty slippery. However, before I ask you for specifics, I want to hear why you thought about helping teenagers with their emotional well-being in the first place. Tara, do you want to take it?

TARA VERMA: Yeah, yeah, first of all, 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 that we would use in my sessions would be to start by identifying what emotions I was feeling right then.

And I found this to be quite a grounding experience, and it helped me to be more in tune with my feelings and therefore was able to help me then figure out what to do with them. And so I thought that if this was going to be useful for me, I’m sure it would be useful for a lot of other teams who, unfortunately, may not have had the privilege of getting mental health care like I did.

INTERVIEWER: And Siena, why create an app? Is it just an easier way to convey this to people?

TARA VERMA: Yeah. I believe that especially when you target teenagers, apps are always close to their phones. It’s an easy and effective way to get this 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 time of the day. And then you can log in at that very moment. And so we’re making sure that this app is really aimed at teenagers and we’re making sure that they log themselves in and use these aspects of social media to do good for teenagers.

INTERVIEWER: OK, so let’s see if I got this right. And then, Tara, join in if you want. So if I’m sad, let’s just say I’m sad. You choose that feeling, don’t you? And then you just name how you feel? So you are aware of that, right?

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

INTERVIEWER: Alright. Tara, how can your friends help you? So if you name your feelings, can you ask others for help?

TARA VERMA: Actually, that was one feature we thought about. And you can have friends in the app. However, the difference with other apps is that you don’t share your special feelings with your friends. Because often we have seen that there can be an unhealthy dependency between friends for their mental health. And we didn’t want teenagers to potentially experience the burden of other people’s emotions, especially with the potential of multiple friends every day.

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

INTERVIEWER: Sure, that makes sense, don’t hurt other people’s feelings. But if you need further help, how could you get in touch?

SIENA PRADHAN: Yeah.

INTERVIEWER: Siena or–

SIENA PRADHAN: So yes, I can answer that.

INTERVIEWER: Sure.

SIENA PRADHAN: So the app’s friends also show that you have a support system. So you can always contact your friends, parents or school counselor in the app if you feel that these sad or angry or anxious feelings continue for a long time. And we recommend that you do.

But for the purposes of the app, it’s really just about getting in tune with yourself and holding yourself accountable. And making sure that your friends check in on themselves, but we don’t necessarily know what they’re feeling, was how we wanted to do it, especially since sometimes I don’t want to share everything that I’m feeling. friends. But I just want to make sure they’re there for me and know that I’m like taking care of myself. And so the purpose of the application should have been.

INTERVIEWER: You are also…

TARA VERMA: And what about…

INTERVIEWER: Go ahead.

TARA VERMA: Sorry. You go.

INTERVIEWER: No, go ahead, Tara. Go forward.

TARA VERMA: Okay. So we also thought about the fact that often when it comes to getting help, I feel that people only get help when it’s not too late, but when their mental health has gotten so bad that it would have been useful to get help earlier. And so we hope, what Siena said. If you notice constant sadness, constant anxiety, which — of course, these feelings happen to all of us.

But if you notice this pattern, it might lead to proactive action instead of waiting until it’s almost too late. And so we hope it will help people seek help sooner rather than later.

INTERVIEWER: Ok, yeah. So I’m wondering here – there’s still so much stigma attached to mental illness, isn’t there? How could this app possibly ease the stigma? Siena, what do you think about it?

SIENA PRADHAN: I think the best way to alleviate this stigma is to really bring it up in everyday life and not make it some kind of taboo and it doesn’t have to be some kind of big deal, but more about this app. the goal is for you to just check in with yourself every single day. And that repetitive nature and making sure that you really stick with it and do it for yourself, I think is the best way to reduce the stigma.

If everyone just checks themselves, it can benefit greatly, as can mental health in general, and also maybe just reduce that stigma of sadness. Because that happens to everyone sometimes. But as long as it’s not constant sadness, as Tara mentioned earlier, then it’s okay to feel those feelings.

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

TARA VERMA: Yeah, so with both of us coming from South Asian families, I feel like there’s a lot of stigma around negative emotions. And this stigma usually manifests itself only in denial. But we were hoping that if it starts with you yourself – and maybe parents use the app, siblings, is that if everyone can log in with their feelings, it can hopefully make it easier to talk about our feelings. .

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

INTERVIEWER: Sure. So last question for you both, how has it been? I mean how are the downloads? What is its take? What is the reaction? What do you hear?

TARA VERMA: Yeah, so we actually…

SIENA PRADHAN: It’s going great, yeah. So it’s going great. We have over– almost 7,000 downloads, I think, in the App Store right now. And it spans over six continents. I think Tara has a couple of more detailed stats on what the countries are, but they were really interesting nonetheless.

TARA VERMA: Yes, we have several users in Burkina Faso. We have users in Australia, India, Nepal, some East Asian countries and Mexico of course. I do not know. We have countries all over the world. I think it’s close to 6,900 on Google Play Store and App Store. I think most of them come from App Store downloads. But it’s been really cool to see the progress and spread of the app.

INTERVIEWER: Wow. Well that’s really impressive. Congratulations to you both.

SIENA PRADHAN: Thank you very much.

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

TARA VERMA: Thank you so much for having us.

SIENA PRADHAN: Thank you.

INTERVIEWER: We’ve been talking to high schoolers Tara Verma from Edina and Siena 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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