Inspiration + What it does

We created our project, Mindful Me, for the Health track. Today, the conversation around mental health isn’t as normalized as it should be. During COVID-19, feelings of isolation have surged; at the college level, students are worrying about health, adapting to unfamiliar learning environments, and experiencing decreased interactions. Researchers at Texas A&M University found that 71% of students interviewed indicated increased stress and anxiety levels due to COVID-19. Thus, it is now especially imperative to normalize the conversation around mental health and make a conscious effort to make check-ins a daily habit, particularly in student populations. We chose to create this project based on our experiences as students within a pandemic. Specifically at Duke, we have seen the importance placed on physical health, with constant surveillance testing and required daily symptom monitoring, but not on mental health, which is especially concerning given the effects a pandemic can have on mental well-being. Mindful Me solves this problem by making daily mental health check-ins a habit like how daily symptom monitoring is. When opening our website, users must first create a profile. The daily check in page is unavailable until a profile is created so that people’s data is associated with their account. Upon creating a profile, they are then able to sign in and complete their daily mental health check-in. This allows students to receive the mental health help they need, destigmatizes conversations about mental health, and can allow universities to be aware of the well-being of their students through voluntary sharing of data.

Our project also addresses inadequate treatment of mental health, which is especially severe in communities of color due to implicit biases and stigmas. Implicit biases can lead to misdiagnosing. Furthermore, treatments are more effective when there is a shared identity between the providers and receivers through increased relatability and greater understanding of cultural factors and stigmas. This emphasizes the importance of providing personalized and specific treatments, especially by factors such as racial identity. On our resources page, there are many general resources such as organizations and hotlines, and resources for situations like panic attacks. We also provide resources specific to the user's identity and university that they specified when they signed up. Providing tailored resources can significantly improve mental health treatment because individuals may feel more comfortable speaking to someone with a similar identity, and it can reduce implicit bias from treatment providers.

How we built it

To create our website, we used Glitch to collaboratively work on the front-end of the website using HTML and CSS. In addition to our home page, we had HTML files for the daily check-in, resources, and profile view pages. In the creation of the front-end, we used various HTML features including a navigation bar, carousels, hyperlinks, forms, customized classes, buttons, and photo grids. We created a Flask backend connected to the DataStax Astra’s Cassandra Database. We use it to store complete profiles of users, and, in the future, we hope to create better experiences for the user (if they choose to share their data). Also, we use it to store the daily log of the user’s emotional status and try to provide them with better and immediate resources to solve their problems. We are using React to fetch dynamic data from the backend based on the user who is logged in.

Challenges we ran into

We did run into a few challenges during this process. For example, one technical challenge that we had to address was that if the user had not already created a profile for resources, we had to redirect them to the page to create a profile. This was key to our idea, as it was one of our main goals to be able to provide personalized resources, but implementing this was challenging. We also had a few minor bugs in completing the backend portion of the website which was challenging. Another challenge that we faced was quickly picking up some technical skills that we were not initially familiar with. For example, some of our group had no experience in writing in HTML, but through using online resources and documentation, we were able to overcome this challenge.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

Through completing this project, one of our biggest accomplishments was being able to use HTML and React to create a cohesive and professional, yet very calming, website. We were also able to use DataStax Astra to keep track of and use user information so that we could actually have a profile-based personalized experience for our users. The database also allowed us to keep track of the different resources we provided to the users and selectively provide specific resources based on their demographic information. Another accomplishment was being able to find a diverse array of resources that served a variety of different racial demographics.

What we learned

Through creating the frontend, our team gained greater familiarity with programming in HTML, which some of us had little to no experience with beforehand. We were able to build these skills through looking online and asking each other for help. Additionally, through this experience of creating a front end, back end, and bringing them together, our team really came to understand how the frontend and the backend of a website interact and come together to make a website. Besides technical skills, our team also learned more about collaboration through this hackathon. Our team consistently stayed on zoom and coded collaboratively, creating an environment where we could ask each other for help, tell each other about our progress, and motivate each other. Additionally, we learned how to leverage each other’s coding experience by splitting up the work based on our programming skills. This helped us grow as a team and take advantage of each of our strengths to create the best possible product.

What's next for Mindful Me

If we were to further expand this project, we would account for users who have an existing mental illness and/or are on medications for these illnesses when creating the profile section. This way, we could personalize the questions we ask in order to assess mental illness based on the current mental health status of the user, which would be a more accurate indicator of mental well-being. We also would want to create more personalized resources based on the intersectional identity of a user, not just their racial identity. For example, we could incorporate age, gender, race, and even sexual orientation to offer more individualized resources. Additionally, we would want to expand Mindful Me so larger stakeholders like universities, mental health professionals, physicians, and employers can use it to see data from their students/patients/employees through voluntary data sharing. This can help inform policies and efforts to address mental health within these institutions. Also, we would want to create resources that would pop up for users based on their answers to the daily check-in(i.e. If they’re experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, etc).

Essentially, we learned a lot throughout the creation of Mindful Me, and we are really excited and passionate about our final product and its applications!

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