Knight News Challenge: Expanding Mental Health Support

Project Title: Expanding access to mental health information

Requested $ Amount: $10,000

Expected Amount of time to Complete Project: 6 months

Describe your Project:

The big question: How can we harness data and information for the health of communities?

This interactive app’s purpose is two-fold: an indicator of where mental health education or resources are most needed for the young adult sector (middle school, high school, and college students), and immediate, reliable information about mental health for the user. App downloading will require your location, and when making an account will ask a few short questions such as, I know someone who is affected by mental health disorder (Y/N); I have heard of a mental health facility in my area (Y/N); How strongly do you agree with this statement: I know where to go to get help or treatment with my mental health (scale 1-6); I received mental health education through a school curriculum; If no- A mental health education would/would have benefit(ed) me (scale 1-6). If yes- Mental health education was a valuable experience (scale 1-6).   

Before data about the community health can be gathered and analyzed, immediate help the app can give starts at the personal level. Rather than a diagnostic tool, this app allows the users to seek advice, encouragement, prevalence and directions on dealing with mental health symptoms, rather than advice given to “someone with a disorder.” We feel this will lessen the stigma around mental health that surrounds young adults. Users can select how they’re feeling or a behavior they’re practicing, how often it occurs, other interacting feelings or behaviors, and severity before receiving information on how to handle that symptom. For example, someone who is a little blue from moderate stress needs different information than someone who is suicidal.

What this app is not: This app is not intended to replace the patient-doctor relationship, but to assist those in times of need when a doctor is unavailable or is unnecessary. It will include guidelines on when to see a doctor, and will not act as a stand-in to medical intervention. This is not a diagnostic tool per se. This is for encouragement, advice and step by step help. It can be a helpful tool in, for example, the steps of walking yourself out of a panic attack, connecting you to the suicide hotline, and tracking your mood or eating/drug habits on a calendar.

The symptoms associated with the following disorders are most prevalent on campuses, and therefore would be most useful: panic attacks, generalized anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, eating disorders, low to high stress, social anxiety, psychological/relationship abuse, addiction/drug abuse, seasonal affective disorder, self harm, PTSD, ADD/ADHD.

The stigma of mental illness plays an especially damaging role in younger adolescents during their formative years of social exposure and image crafting. We seek to lessen the harms of that stigma with this app. Middle schoolers want to “fit in” and be like everyone else. The fact that there’s not much information out there for this age groups makes it especially alienating for those who do try to seek answers. Many mental health problems go unreported due to this stigma or misinformation. For these reasons, we think having prevalence statistics with each symptom or behavior will reinforce the idea that they are not alone, and it is okay to have these feelings.

This app can help increase access to information about mental health without expenses such as health insurance or travel.  We realize mental health issues affect more people than just ones with smartphones, so if it takes off, we hope to expand to a website, which are generally more accessible.  This can be a tool for those in treatment/on medication, and the person with no knowledge about any issues they may struggle with.

We talked to a few people in order to assess the interest for such an app, and learned that this app is something that people find useful and necessary.

Some questions that we asked were:

Where do you get your information about mental health?

How many people do you know that deal with mental health issues?

How important Is it that people understand mental health?

The people that we talked to mostly got their information on mental health from various online sources and personal experiences. It normally took them a few seconds to come up with an answer for that question. Our interviewees personally knew approximately 15-20 people with some kind of mental health issue, and felt that it was extremely important that people get information about mental health because of this. They all mentioned in some way that they feel like there is not a good easily accessible place to get information about and help for mental health issues.


Molly Longstreth, 20, female, student at Connecticut College.

Katy Robinson, 20, female, student at University of Michigan.

Danielle Duffy, 20, female, pharmacy tech, Niles MI. No email

Audrey Haimbaugh, 15, student at Niles High School, Niles MI

Duc Pham, 20, male, UM student.

Statistics on mental health issues further support our belief that this app would be widely used by a large audience. According to the National  Institute of Mental Health, 6.7 % of the U.S population that are 18 or older has Major Depressive Disorder. Also according to the NIMH, about 18.1% of Americans that are 18 or older have an Anxiety Disorder, and 2.7% in this age group have Panic Disorder. A significant amount of the population is having to deal with mental health disorders, and there are many more people who go undiagnosed and unreported. Additionally, these statistics do not include those people who are under 18, but NIMH acknowledges that mental health disorders can start at an early age. This app would be a very available and helpful resource for the many millions of people who are struggling with various mental health issues.

Greg: How is your idea innovative — new or different from something already existing? Name your closest competitors

Health applications like Web MD are directed primarily at diagnosing a particular disease or disorder for the user. By putting symptoms into the site it hopes to diagnose the exact or potential affliction the person is suffering. Mental health issues are notoriously hard to diagnose as the symptoms for disorders such as depression or ADHD often have very vague symptoms used to diagnose them used by the APA. Some people may be diagnosed with one of these disorders when they may only slightly suffer from it and the prescription drugs used to treat these medicines are often very intense. Instead of offering a diagnosis or how to seek appropriate medical attention, our application would focus on holistic ways of treating certain symptoms and not necessarily diagnose an issue. For example, if someone suffering from depression were to use our app and list symptoms such as: laziness, extreme sadness, lack of motivation, etc., the application would provide suggestions for how to treat this symptoms based on certain user information(Age, occupation, location, etc.).

How will your idea be financially sustainable?

As it grows, we can apply for grant funding from the NIH, NAMI, NIHM, WHO.

We have been interested in mental health for years and are always fascinated with how few people realize its prevalence, depth, correct pathology, or even that a condition exists. We have family members and friends who suffer from different mental illnesses and want to shape a better environment for them through awareness and acceptance.


3 Responses to “Knight News Challenge: Expanding Mental Health Support”

  1. I think this is a really interesting and important topic to address. I especially think that this product will fulfill a niche because it focuses on adolescents. I think this will be a useful app for virtually all people. I know many people that want to receive information on mental health but they cannot because they do not have easy access to it.

    One challenge that I think could possibly arise from this application is receiving information regarding insurance. There will need to be a lot of interception from the hospital and the insurance company, and it could be difficult to gain this information.

    Moreover, I think it would have been better if there were interviews from a more diverse group of people. Perhaps there could have been an older college student and more males.

    I think that your application is strengthened because you provided statistics. Also, I think it’s great that the group working on this project is personally tied to the subject.

    Good job and I look forward to the presentation during Pitchfest!


  2. So, I really love this idea! I think, especially at a large university like Michigan, the overwhelming number of resources for mental health can make it difficult and confusing for a lot of students.

    I’m not sure if this was specifically addressed, but I do think that it would be interesting if you got universities, high schools, and middle schools involved and allow users to designate which institution they belong to (while also making sure their privacy is kept and their information and location is shared only if they’re willing… I would also make sure something like this is mentioned to users at the beginning, during the initial questionnaire). That way, institutions can personalize the information presented to students, including resources on campus, additional support groups and therapists around the area, clubs of like minded individuals, etc.

    I would also suggest that for students whose answers to questions signal potential suicidal thoughts or actions are immediately given local, state, or national helplines to ensure that these students will receive the immediate, emergency help and support that they need.

    But overall great idea!! I do know of a website that is similar to this idea (but currently only for students in Australia and the UK and obviously it’s only available online). It might be a good blueprint for the future!!


  1. Knight News Challenge: Expanding Mental Health Support | ▇ ▅ █ ▅ ▇ ▂ ▃ ▁ ▁ ▅ ▃ ▅ ▅ ▄ ▅ ▇ - March 11, 2014

    […] Full Article can be found here (click to open in new window) […]

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