UP students create mobile app for mental health first aid

Dwight de Leon

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UP students create mobile app for mental health first aid
The increasing need to raise the level of mental health awareness leads two UP students in computer science to develop a mobile application that will address such need

MANILA, Philippines – The increasing need to raise the level of mental health awareness in the country led two computer science students to develop a mobile application that will address such need.

Chad Errol Booc and Chara Mae San Diego, both from the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman College of Engineering, wrote for their thesis a project titled PsychUP, a mobile application that would accompany the Psychosocial Wellness Program (PWP) of the University of the Philippines-Manila.

PWP, crafted by UP Manila’s guidance counseling program, aims to “foster awareness of mental health as priority issue” and “enhance capacity of UP Manila staff in addressing the psychosocial needs of the students” among others.

The study stated that UP Manila was chosen among the 8 constituents of the UP system because it is the national center for health sciences as mandated by Republic Act No. 5163.

Booc and San Diego initially proposed PsychUP to members of faculty, health professionals and student representatives of UP Manila, who gave feedback on how to improve the mobile application.

How PsychUP works

A campus-based mobile application, PsychUP requires the webmail account of UP Manila students, the selected respondents of the the proponents’ thesis.

There are 3 types of participants in the process: the peers who will provide mental health service to the second type of user, which is the student, and the administration who will oversee the application.

Among the features of the app includes sending message to allow both type of users to engage in a conversation and for the peer to provide counseling services to the student. Once the student thinks his or her problem has been solved, he or she can mark the conversation as resolved and it will be deleted in the chat history “so the students will be stressed again after rereading the messages”.

Another feature of the app is student anonymity which gives the students more freedom to express themselves without being subjected to the stigma brought about by mental health issues.

Students can also rate their peers so that the GCP can evaluate the peers for further improvement.

From the administration’s side, the application has a dashboard tab that they can use to post announcements from their offices

Prevalence of mental health problems

Addressing mental health problems in the country is a growing concern among the Filipino youth. The Congress, however, has yet to pass a Mental Health Law to provide mental health interventions and help eliminate the stigma attached to it. (READ: Why we need mental health law in the PH)

Booc and San Diego said mental health first aid as one of the most effective ways of addressing mental health concerns.

“[Mental health first aid] is necessary until the person receives professional help. This helps in ensuring that the person does not harm his or her self; in preventing the worsening of the problem; in recovering; and in giving relief to the person,” the researchers wrote.

They also noted the increasing suicide rate in the Philippines from 1984 to 2005 among the youth, and cited the death of “at least 10 college students in the past years.”

A report of the World Health Organization in 2012 also said that while Philippines has the lowest suicide rate among ASEAN-member countries, Philippines also has the most number of people suffering from depression with an estimated figure of 4.5 million. According to studies, only one of every 3 individuals seeks the help of a specialist.

When asked what inspired them to do this project, Booc said, “We have recognized the need for an accessible mental health care. I have friends who had suffered from mental health problems but were not able to seek help due to inaccessibility of services. They did not know what to do with it. Others were afraid of seeking help thinking other people might judge them.”

PsychUP has not been deployed to Android and iOS stores, but the project, according to the researchers, got an “overwhelming approval” from the administration, faculty and staff of UP Manila.

In an email, Booc also said that they are in talks with the Information Management Service of UP Manila for the deployment and test run in the said campus.

International conferences

Booc and San Diego will present their papers in two international conferences. The first one is the 7th International Conference on Information, Intelligence, Systems and Applications (IISA2016) to be held in Greece on July 13-15, 2016, while the second one is the 2016 International Conference on Education, Psychology and Society (ICEPS 2016) to be held in Tokyo, Japan on August 25-27, 2016.

However, the students are in need of sponsors to fund their trips to Greece and Japan since,the university covers only a small fraction of their expenses. Booc and San Diego needs P140 000 ($7438) to attend both conferences.

Booc, 22, graduated just last Sunday with cum laude honors in computer science, while his partner San Diego, 21, has another semester to complete her units. – Rappler.com 

Sponsors willing to help may contact Booc at 0943-425-5212 or via email at chadbooc@gmail.com.

Dwight De Leon is the president of DZUP Radio Circle, the official student organization arm of the official AM radio station of UP Diliman, DZUP 1602. He is also currently an intern for Rappler.

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Malacañang, and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.