I was inspired to build this project, as I saw an exponentially growing need for emotional support amid the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting measures. In fact, I predict that the second wave of COVID-19 will be a mental health pandemic. Here's why: 3 billion people are under lockdown. Domestic violence has spiked 36%. Calls to the crisis lines have increased by 50%. 80% of the calls are COVID-19 related. Suicide rates are seeing a surge.
The latter hit too close to home when someone close to me attempted suicide. This was my wake-up call to build something that would help people in need of emotional support, people suffering. With BuddyHelp, they no longer have to suffer alone. There will always be an open ear, with caring, compassionate people just a click away to support them through their struggles.
What it does
BuddyHelp addresses the impending mental health pandemic with a three-pronged approach: 1: providing immediate and free volunteer-led emotional support. 2: professional online therapy through our partners. 3: online university of psychology to train qualified counselors, as the current supply will not be enough.
Here's how BuddyHelp works: it provides free emotional support to anyone who needs somebody to talk to. Our emotional support base will be made up of volunteer listeners, compassionate people who are trained in active listening, and emotional support. We are developing this training system directly with certified counselors and experienced psychologists. This opens up the potential support base to a much broader audience than the very limited amount of professional counselors available, in exponential times like these. Anticipating major demand, our platform is designed to be as frictionless and straightforward as possible, using only tools and platforms that users and counselors already have.
The way it works is that a user seeking emotional support will come to the website, and hit a button to initiate a chat conversation. That will send out a chat request to our support base. Each volunteer listener can choose out of Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, and Telegram as their platform from which to provide their support. They will receive the chat requests directly in their messenger of choice and can initiate a conversation straight from there. So in summary, it is anonymous and confidential from the users perspective, as they are chatting directly from the website, without having to provide any personally identifying information, and the support listeners are plugged in via their already existing chat apps and are able to step in immediately, without having to download yet another app, or sign up to yet another website.
We have signed on a partner to provide professional online therapy for when our users need more support. This gives us direct access to 7.000 vetted, board-certified psychologists.
Our online learning platform "The University of Psychology" is being developed with leading psychologists and psychology educators. Our aim is to provide an environment to enable rapid learning to support the increase in demand.
How I built it
I used a chatbot platform and hacked it into a one-way communication platform to allow 1-on-1 conversations between trained support listeners and anonymous users.
Challenges I ran into
The existing tech that I hacked together to create this had some initial limitations that will need to be overcome. Also, the logistical immensity of building such a platform and the chicken and egg problem will need to be properly addressed, going forward.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
This weekend for the EUvsVirus hackathon, we took BuddyHelp from barebones MVP to a fully functional platform that already performed its first support sessions during the weekend. The tech is complete. Our volunteer support listeners are online, they have collectively pledged over 100 h/ week of support. We are actively developing the learning program to streamline the onboarding process and educate future counselors. We have signed on a major partner, giving us direct access to over 7.000 vetted, board-certified psychologists.
What I learned
With a creative mindset, anything can be built in a matter of hours. It's just a question of orchestrating components in the right way. The real challenge lies in building up everything around the core tech, getting enough people on board for the anticipated demand, and having systems in place to allow for seamless and rapid scaling.
What's next for BuddyHelp - Free Emotional Support
- Ironing out the tech, overcoming existing limitations.
- Finalizing our video training course for emotional support listeners.
- Recruiting additional volunteer listeners (compassionate people that want to to help others, while at the same time helping themselves by learning and practicing excellent active listening skills)
- Attracting volunteer psychologists to advise and contribute to the training course program, as well as potentially to donate counseling time to the platform for initial traction before our listeners are trained.
- Partnering with institutions, governments, schools and universities, companies etc, to get this into the hands of the millions of people who need it. There will be the possibility of creating peer support channels and specialist channels for these institutions if necessary (for example language-specific, interest-specific, community-specific, EAP, etc)