Mental Health Awareness: There’s an App for That

While most twenty one year olds are excited with the prospect of legally purchasing their first alcoholic drink, senior interactive multimedia major Niveda Harishankar is busy thinking about how she can help her school community.

Here at The College of New Jersey, Harishankar focuses on user experience design. The college’s IMM program has imprinted her with the belief that “if you’re motivated enough, if you’re interested enough, then you can look at a problem and find ways to solve it yourself. You don’t need to wait for someone else to come by. See what you can do as a designer, developer, a person.”

On January 11th Harishankar pushed her Polansky Fellowship award winning application called TCNJ Wellness out onto the android market, allowing students free access to an anonymous and technological way to cope with stress and anxiety, right at their fingertips.

The application, brandished by a blue and white umbrella that coincides with TCNJ’s school colors, provides users with inspiring quotes, a mood tracker, strategies for coping with stress, and outlets for those who want to reach out but don’t know where to go.

The idea for the application first developed when faced with the challenge of creating an application for her mobile computing class. The assignment caused Harishankar to think back to a student in her freshman year Spanish class who committed suicide, and how negative the stigma can be that is associated with mental health problems. According to a 2013 article in Psychology Today, that stigma may fountain from “misguided views that people with mental health problems may be more violent or unpredictable than people without such problems, or somehow just “different.”

With the wish to shed a positive light on discussing mental health combined with witnessing someone she knew fall through the cracks, Harishankar set out on discovering a way to make students feel more comfortable talking about mental health on campus. She says, “You need to be given confidence that if you reach out it wouldn’t be bad for you, you wouldn’t be kicked out of school.”

And so the TCNJ Wellness application was born, with an insignia that first caused people to ask her “is it a weather app?” due to its umbrella form. While Harishankar understands the confusion, for her the umbrella symbolized form of protection, saying “I thought of it as shielding you from something. An umbrella is sort of a safe space that shields you from the rain, so this symbolism is that the TCNJ community is a safe space for you to air your issues and talk to other students.”

While unsure if her application is currently making people feel more comfortable talking about mental health on a college campus setting, she hopes that eventually it will inspire that. For now, she knows that she has provided a way for students to temporarily help themselves. “The entire point of my app was that you should feel more comfortable reaching out, and on the application there are quicker ways for you to feel better. It’s sort of like your companion when you’re not feeling that well. It mitigates the factor of being scared to go in in person. Here’s an online experience for you if you don’t feel comfortable going in.”

The various strategies for coping with stress and depression were inspired by roaming through the college’s Counseling and Psychological Services website and a book Harinshakar was reading called The Happiness Project. They both provided quick solutions for bursts of happiness for students who are constantly on the go, and don’t have time for a two hour workout to get their endorphins pumping. Harinshakar says that, “We’re all students, we’re all busy, and we don’t have time on a regular basis to do things for a long period of time.”

Harinshakar’s mood tracker allows its users to track their ups and downs, along with the ability to write notes on why they were feeling that type of way. With this, when a student is feeling down they can go back and see that there is a light in the darkness. She believes that “It’s good to remember that when you’re down, there will be an up.”

When asked what it was like to have an application on the market, she replies with “Oh, relief.” Harinshakar then went into detail about the strenuous process of not only designing an application, but also dealing with the coding behind it, saying “Problems rise up that you don’t think about-like when you click on this but this doesn’t happen- and oh shit this entire thing crashed why did it crash?” Academically, she reaped the benefits of having a project she had complete control over and was able to put out into the world herself, saying “I learned more than I probably would have learned in a class, because the completion is only part of the process.”

After graduating this spring the IMM student will become a full-time member of Amazon’s work force as a user experience designer. She plans on making sure that her future endeavors accomplish two things: that they change the way people see or do things, and that they’re making a positive impact on the community she is dealing with.

To this user experience designer, “How you interact with that app on your phone is more important to me than the application alone. It’s creating with a purpose. I want the things I do to have a purpose.”