By Kiana Hughes
After three students observed the impact of mental illness on UT’s campus, they have joined their cybersecurity professor to begin designing an interactive app for UT students struggling with the symptoms of mental illness.
Aman Shah, sophomore cybersecurity major and one of the researchers for the app, shares a story about his experience with a roommate last year, which he describes as his motivation behind designing the mental health app.
“At first he was cool and he acted normal, he was generally a nice guy. However, slowly through the year he started to say and do things that I knew could not be right. Unfortunately, he did not finish out his school year. It was until that moment that my other roommates and I were aware of his mental illness. I want to help students, like my roommate from last year, ” said Aman.
Two other students, Maya Patel, a sophomore biochemistry major and Krisha Shah, a sophomore management information systems major are also researchers for the app. Aman, Patel, and Krisha have joined Mia Plachkinova, assistant professor of cybersecurity, in a research project to design the most beneficial mental health app for UT students.
Though none of these students have ever been diagnosed with mental illnesses, Krisha said that their research team has noticed the impact that mental illness has on many students on UT’s campus.
“Maya and I are mentors for first year seminar. We see the effects of mental illness in a lot of first year students. We can help them,” Krisha said.
Patel, Aman and Krisha want to help their fellow students overcome the effects of their mental illnesses by creating a quick, responsive app that will be designed specifically for UT students.
“Mental illness. People don’t tend to talk about it much. It’s kind of, one of those taboo topics,” Patel said. “This is such a transitional period in students’ lives; typically some can’t handle it, and technology can help them.”
Aman said that apps are necessary in all aspects of life in today’s technology-based lifestyle. The students plan on designing a mental health app to provide an accessible alternative for mental health support.
“Our generation is always on a device of some sort, so we want to use it as an advantage,” Patel said. “A lot of students are veering away from books and articles, so with an app that’s interactive, that’s always around you and accessible, will be very beneficial for students.”
The researchers also point to the fast-paced lifestyle, influenced by technology, as a reason they needed to create a better alternative for students suffering from mental illness that need or prefer a quicker support system that is easily accesable.
“We don’t have time in today’s world; we cancel sessions with therapists, we do not even take the time to think about our thoughts. The app will provide that support for students who are affected by mental illness, in a quicker fashion.”
The app is aiming to help students who suffer from mental illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorder, which are amongst the most common mental illness diagnoses on college campuses.
“It can also be the first step in helping them realize somethings going on,” Krisha said.
The research team finalized their ideas in early September leading them to take the next steps in the composite process of app design. Since, the app is in the early stages of development, the researchers are prioritizing data collection and research of UT student’s mental health. The app will be designed on the basis of UT student’s general mental health needs. These findings will be analyzed and determined through the team’s upcoming research study.
The student researchers plan on conducting an on-campus, randomized student survey, which will include 100 male and 100 female students. The survey will comprise questions relating to the student’s overall mood and how the student is transitioning through their college years. The research team will then use this information to create the appropriate interface including the visual aspect of the app and the way the information will be displayed on the screen.
“We are targeting details,” Patel said. “There are so many layouts and details in an app and that’s what we’re focusing on because even color can affect emotion and that’s really important.”
The research team is still waiting for UT’s approval to conduct the survey. This survey is going to be their first data collection process, but they do plan on conducting other studies in the future, if necessary.
These three students are bringing a multidisciplinary approach to this app design. This research team believes that their combination of different majors, backgrounds and interests will have an interesting and beneficial effect on their app design. Patel said her experience in the science field and her passion for medicine, will prove beneficial in the creation of the mental health app because some of the questions will be clinical.
Aman believes that with his cybersecurity major he will have a programming perspective toward the app design process. Since the data they will be collecting is considered sensitive, Krisha believes her experience as a management information systems major has provided her with the proper knowledge to keep the data secure as well as the ability to properly analyze the data they collect.
“Once we collect the data from the survey, I will be able to really analyze it. A lot of people collect data but do not know what to do with it and just draw any conclusion,” Krisha said.
“It is important to think from a multidisciplinary standpoint whenever you’re about to embark on a project,” said Patel.
Although the research team believes that their atypical background, as non-health related majors, will provide them with an original perspective on mental health, Aman still believes it is necessary to gain health related research and knowledge when creating the app.
“Once we get the necessary permissions we are going to consult students and professors that study health and mental health, as well as the health center, ” said Aman.
The app is expected to be designed and released for UT students as early as fall 2018. This, however, does not mark the end of their journey. “The UT-based mental health app will be the pilot test. We then will deploy it out to the rest of the world,” said Aman.
Kiana Hughes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org