In these two days of Wonder Women Tech's Hacks 4 Humanity, the MESPERO project had two primary goals
1. To move from app idea to prototype mockup: Specifically, the idea for this app originated early in the COVID crisis, as we witnessed friends, colleagues and clients experiencing significant mental injury. So, we conducted an informal, exploratory survey on preferences in mental health apps in June and, in these two days of Wonder Women Tech's hackathon, were finally able to use those research findings to build the prototype mockup.
2. To build from 'crowdsourcing lived experience' idea to proof of concept: One of MESPERO's major innovations is its focus on culturally-sensitive iteration empowering local populations to share their lessons learned from lived experience. Equally important is the project's focus on supporting people to tell their own stories and share their own wisdom within the context of diversity and inclusion. In short, the goal is to support specific target groups to create and scale their unique narrative of healing.
As such, the second part of MESPERO's participation in this hackathon was a virtual workshop for five women with some form of lived experience around resilience, emotional wellbeing or mental health. The participants were introduced to the basics of virtual learning and supported in digitally defining their preferred narrative.
For the Wonder Women Tech Hack pilot workshop, we selected five women reflecting diverse demographics:
- Italian nurse, 30s, dealing with COVID patients and who is now experiencing insomnia
- US military psychiatric nurse, 40s, serving abroad and concerned that some of her new cohorts have a different view of how to conduct mental health intake
- Japanese HR head, 50s, whose company is dealing with a sharp spike in burnout cases
- Syrian woman, 30s, of a refugee background who had her preexisting PTSD triggered by the lockdown
- Austrian woman, 20s, who is becoming increasingly despondent in her job search
Heather gave these women a short virtual workshop on Sunday and worked individually with them on Monday to create their preferred digital narratives.
The Global Issue: The World Health Organization estimates that one in four people will have a mental-health disorder during her/his lifetime with countless others at risk due to personal, societal and environmental factors. The vast majority will not have sufficient access to mental-health support.
Meanwhile, mental health issues among the general population globally have worsened dramatically under Covid. 2.7 billion people, or more than four out of five workers in the global workforce, have been affected by lockdowns and stay-at-home measures. The rise in mental health challenges has already impacted the labor force and is expected to continue long-term.
And for an additional hundreds of millions of people living at the poverty line or in societies in which discussing mental health is taboo, the negative impact of this pandemic is arguably much more severe.
Yet at present, there is no cost-effective and integrated solution for promoting emotional wellness while preventing and treating mental health issues on a mass scale - let alone one which is culturally-sensitive and empowering of local populations to tell their own stories.
The Personal Challenge: As a psychotherapist, Heather has spent much of the pandemic supporting others with emotional and mental health issues related to the lockdown.
As an organizational development consultant, she has worked with many HR managers now facing heightened levels of workplace burnout, depression, anxiety and substance abuse - all within the context of major budget cuts.
As a youth mentor, she has seen the devastating impact that the pandemic's disruption has had on adolescent depression, anxiety, ADHD, and general quality of life.
As mental health advocates, many of us connected to MESPERO have witnessed how the lockdown has exacerbated preexisting conditions such as PTSD related to war or domestic violence in various populations.
And in all of these circumstances, we have discovered that there is a significant lack of resources available for these individuals, let alone on a culturally-sensitive and inclusive basis.
So, as human rights activists focused on Impact Tech, we decided to create a project contributing to a creative, innovative, and sustainable new approach for Social Good. That's how MESPERO was born.
What it does
MESPERO aims to promote resilience and emotional wellness while mitigating mental injury (from COVID 19 and other sources) for multiple target groups. Emphasis is on building mental fitness while expanding preventive choices.
Additional focus is on adapting to unique and disadvantaged target areas (ranging from refugee camps in Jordan to hospitals in Harlem to barrios in Bogotá) through culturally-sensitive iteration.
The humanitarian impact of decreasing stigmatization around mental-health issues and enhancing quality of life globally is in scope. A further goal is mitigating the negative societal impact of untreated mental-health issues such as increased risk of violent offense, conduct disorders, substance abuse, and extremism.
This innovation will be carried out through culturally-sensitive iteration empowering local populations to share their lessons learned from lived experience.
We are also developing youth-empowerment and mentoring programs to improve mental-health literacy and reduce stigmatization.
How it was built
In these past few days, Heather built the mockup with proto.io and on the basis of extensive research conducted a few months ago, as described above. The workshops and related digital interactions deployed Articulate 360 and Raptivity.
While building this prototype mockup and doing the related workshops were carried out during the past two days, however, it must be said that MESPERO is a team effort that has existed for some months. Psychologists, HR professionals, academics and organizational development experts are among the volunteer consultants who believe in this project.
The five women mentioned above also volunteered their time and provided valuable feedback in being among the first cohort to take the workshop.
Foremost among those who have provided valuable insight every step of the way of MESPERO's development, however, are the women of SDG 5 Thrive (alphabetically: Rania Ali, Doaa Al Zamel, Nour Barakeh, Suad Mohamed). These inspiring young women have already contributed greatly to the promotion of humanitarian causes, the scaling of mental health awareness and healing, and the pursuit of greater Social Good.
Challenges run into
No major challenges. Lack of sleep and the necessity to make do with limited financial resources, but as MESPERO has so far been a volunteer project, that is normal ;-)
Accomplishments to be proud of
We are proud of everyone connected to MESPERO and look forward to our next steps!
But rather than pride, the driving force behind MESPERO is the understanding that millions – if not billions – of people right now are not being equitably served regarding emotional wellbeing and mental health.
MESPERO can and will make a difference. We will reach those populations and empower them to share their own wisdom around healing.
What was learned
During these past few days, we got great feedback on tweaking the workshop for different target groups, in this case specifically for: US military nurse, COVID healthcare professional, multinational HR head, person of a refugee background, young job seeker.
We learned a lot about transposing research to app design when making the prototype.
One note re. AI: It is clear that many of those connected to Wonder Women Tech are connected to the field of AI. It is also clear that chat bots and related technology are widely used in mental health apps.
However, in general, it must be acknowledged that AI systems are only as good as the data put into them. In addition, numerous mental health target groups are hesitant to use AI or chat bots due to (often valid) privacy concerns.
As such, MESPERO will not incorporate AI or chat bots at this time. That might come later with specific target groups, but for now, we will focus on enabling groups to develop and share their narratives instead.
What's next for MESPERO: Impact Tech for Resilience and Mental Health
To get funding to build the app and to scale the 'crowdsourcing lived experience' approach far and wide!