Grade 11 students from Shiv Nadar School have created a chatbot that provides a platform for teenagers to talk about mental health and the stress that they’re facing as a result of the pandemic. The chatbot is made by teens to speak to others like themselves feeling similar pressures and anxieties, and offers non-clinical support and suggests music playlists and offers advice to help. The toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on children has been clear but in India it’s still uncommon for people to seek care for their mental health, and that was one of the inspirations for the project, Spark the Spirit.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), mental health conditions account for 16 percent of the global burden of disease and injury in people aged 10-19 years. There are numerous factors that contribute to stress during adolescence including, a desire for independence, peer pressure, exploration of sexuality, building new relationships, good grades, and more.
Parental pressure, expectations from society, the blurring lines between real life and what we see on social media are just a few of the many things that impact their mental health. Being stuck at home with life going ultimately online didn’t make things any better.
This was the motivation for a team of students at Shiv Nadar School for their annual tech event, Colloquium. The bot is hosted on the site Spark the Spirit, which was also designed by the student group. The group has five students, all from Class 11, Akshat Jain, Muskaan Chawla, Akkshansh Bagga, Yash Kataria, and Aryan Misra.
According to the group, the chatbot monitors the mood of users, helps them express their thoughts and emotions through therapeutic conversations. On visiting the website, one can sign up with Gmail or anonymously, after which, the chatbot gets to know the user by asking questions from the paediatric symptom checklist (PSC-35 checklist) and resources are suggested accordingly.
In the initial stages of the project, the team conducted surveys in their school with proper medical indexes and found one in every four teenagers showed symptoms of diagnosable anxiety. They also added a question as to whether people would like to use a device that could help them manage the day to day anxiety and learned that more than a third of the people said ‘no’ because ‘there was nothing wrong with them’.
Therefore, the team decided to design a chatbot which was a more social solution to this problem where a physical device won’t help. Although the chatbot is not a replacement for professional help or a therapist, it really helps ease stress and create a positive impact on the minds of its users.
Asking their mentor, Mark Nelson, about how the school curriculum encourages students to pursue projects in real-time, he said that the school has designed a technology curriculum for students from classes 7-10 and once in 10th standard, they participate in a design for change competition called Capstone in which the students have to form teams, identify a social problem and try to solve it. “The main idea behind this curriculum was, if you identify a problem, you have to go out there and solve it; you can’t do that by sitting in your classrooms and just thinking about it,” Nelson said.
As mentors, they have divided the process of innovation into four steps- identification of the problem, proposing solutions, making a prototype and taking it out in the world to test it. The school tries to equip the students with the proper infrastructure and support at every stage of the process for the successful completion of the project.
The team (of Akkshansh Bagga, Akshat Jain, Yash Kataria, Muskaan Chawla, Aryan Misra) comprised of students from different streams but they all had one thing in common — they wanted to destigmatise mental health and create a community where teenagers felt free to vent out and connect with each other.
Their forum ‘Spark the Spirit’ aims at achieving the same, and they hope to expand their club to the schools throughout the country so that the taboo associated with mental health gradually fades away.