Active Minds is hoping to change the conversation around mental health through their newest project: an interactive app designed to track moods and create a sense of community during times of isolation.
The Univesrity of Alberta student group recently launched their app as a means of destigmatizing mental illness and making help accessible to all. The app, available on the Google Play Store, features an easy-to-navigate interface allowing users to monitor their mood throughout the day, follow and check in on their friends, and access mental health resources.
Active Minds was founded by Hassan Nawab two years ago as a project born from his past experiences and devotion to bettering his community. As an honours psychology student in his fifth year, he pursued his passion for mental health not only through his academics, but through his role as the president of Active Minds and the implementation of a variety of mental health-focused programs.
After learning that his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, Nawab took a semester off during his second year. He highlights this moment as a critical learning experience that focused his attention on mental health and inspired him to start the student group.
“I always had this [focus on] mental health in the back of my head coming into post-secondary [education] and looking at how mental health is viewed and addressed on campus was a major concern of mine,” Nawab said.
Even before the establishment of Active Minds, Nawab explored different mediums through which he could raise awareness for mental health. It was through collaborating with his fellow team members, that the idea for creating an app was conceived.
During the brainstorming process, Nawab considered the relevance of technology and app accessibility in people’s daily lives and wished to approach the project through a contemporary perspective.
“The app is honestly one of our most innovative ways of addressing mental health,” Nawab stated. “When we conceived these ideas we wanted to not just address mental health and raise awareness through action but we also wanted to address creative platforms and creative solutions to mental health.”
Nawab took into consideration the challenges that COVID-19 posed on people’s social lives and the impact it had on their mental health when developing the app’s features. Specifically focusing on how social-distancing measures prevented in-person interaction, Nawab implemented a feature which allows users to follow their friends on the app.
Users can send and accept friend requests and view their friend’s mood updates. He believes through these daily interactions, conversations surrounding mental health can be normalized and supportive environments conducive to those discussions can be established.
“It’s supposed to be a safe space.” Nawab said. “The whole concept of someone posting about their mood and following another person [leads to] the creation of this safe space where everyone is checking in on each other.”
Nawab mentioned that the team at Active Minds gave significant consideration to each aspect of the app from the features, to the logos, to the wording. He wanted to make the intended purpose of the app very clear: to provide individuals with a place to start on their mental health journey, rather than to serve as a diagnostic tool.
“The wording is really important — we didn’t want to use wording like depressed because that might label someone,” Nawab said. “We’re not focused on clinical diagnosis, we are focused on people searching themselves, gaining insight, detecting that maybe something’s not right and then connecting them to that resource.”
Nawab emphasizes the importance of being proactive in one’s own mental health journey, stating that “early detection or treatment is key to better mental health prognosis.” The mood tracking feature is specifically designed to serve this purpose by providing a tangible means of acknowledging, accepting and normalizing the user’s feelings.
Despite having been a work-in-progress over the last year, the release of the app could not have happened at a more critical time. Nawab highlighted how the unexpected onslaught of the pandemic “exasperated” many people’s feelings of anxiety and depression. This was important input received directly through one of Active Mind’s services on their website called the Mental Health Supporter Program. The program connects a team member to anyone who calls in.
“I can tell you that since the COVID-19 pandemic happened, we’ve seen a huge rise in the use of our Mental Health Supporter Program,” Nawab stated. “What we get most is these feelings of losing control, of not knowing what’s going to happen [due to the] unpredictability of the future.”
He went on to mention that for many people, this would be the first time they were fully experiencing previously dormant symptoms of anxiety and depression. However, through the use of his app, Nawab hopes that people are provided with the resources to help “ground [themselves] during these turbulent times.”
Despite having only been on the Play Store for a short while, Nawab is already seeing its impact on people’s mental health. According to Nawab, those who have utilized the app have come forward with stories of progress. He was greatly encouraged to hear that some had sought out help for themselves through the app’s resources.
“I was so happy when one of them said that,” Nawab stated. “If [the app] led you to seek out help, and helped in early detection, that’s exactly what we want to do, that’s our goal. That’s the best feedback I could get.”
Nawab mentioned that Active Minds is dedicated to using these promising results as a stepping stone for the continued improvement of the app and implementation of new resources. Currently, their team is working on launching the app on iOS as well.
For the team at Active Minds, the launch of their app was not an easy task — it took the collaborative efforts of numerous individuals who were willing to overcome the obstacles a project of this manner poses. Yet, Nawab reflected on the importance of the group’s work and shared his optimism for the future of the app.
“In the end, persistence was key and that’s why we got [the app] up and hopefully [we can] use it as a social project to change the conversation around mental health.”