Initially, we were thinking of something we wished we had when we were children. A couple of us, growing up, had NintenDogs and Tamagotchis, which we absolutely adored. We knew that people got very easily attached to animals, and wanted to translate that into a virtual experience as well. The important driver of our project, however, was that we wanted to reach a population that didn't always have immediate or fun access to mental health resources -- 6-8 year olds. We also knew that one of the biggest challenges facing this age group is emotion regulation, and we wanted to develop a creative solution to teach the kids about identifying and managing how they're feeling. Our intention is to raise awareness for child mental health and mindfulness.

What it does

Emotion dysregulation is a HUGE risk factor for self-injurious behavior, borderline personality disorder, depression, and anxiety, which collectively contribute to the hundreds of thousands of global disability adjusted life-years. In helping kids combat this risk factor and promote long-term mental well-being, the app has three functions -- helping kids identify, track, and regulate their emotions. To do so, we invited our good pal, Sunny, a golden retriever to interact with the child. First, Sunny asks the child how they're feeling. The child can choose from a list of "calm," "happy," "scared," "sad," "angry," and "unsure." They then rate the intensity of their emotion on a scale from 1 to 5, and list the reasons for their emotions. Depending on the emotion they select, they are guided through a series of dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) exercises to regulate the emotion. Positive emotions are reinforced, and negative emotions are reappraised. For example, a child who indicates that they're feeling angry is led through breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, a musical activity, and encouraged to take a walk. If the child still needs further assistance after the exercises, they are prompted to talk to an adult they trust. Lastly, the child's emotions and ratings are stored so that parents can monitor their child's progress, and can start the conversation about mental wellness. This is important because children's mental health is under-acknowledged in the field but is extraordinarily important for effective preventive measures.

How we built it

We used Swift and XCode to build the backend of the app, and designed Sunny using Photoshop.

Challenges we ran into

We didn't exactly know how to code a lot of the functionality we wished we had. We had hoped to store and record data on the user's mood across weeks or months, but we were unable to implement this.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We learned how to use Swift and Photoshop to create a solution for an under-acknowledged population.

What we learned

We learned how to target key stakeholders in the implementation of our app, and spoke with clinicians about the best DBT practices to incorporate for distress tolerance and emotion regulation.

What's next for Sunny-Side Pup

We're working hard to instigate conversations between parents and kids, allowing children to express and dissect their emotions, and allowing parents to understand and develop their children's mental health. What's next for Sunny-Side Pup? We're partnering with psychiatrists to disseminate our app as a resource for the widespread prevention of emotion dysregulation and its related mental health consequences. We hope to eventually be able to offer the app through health care insurance companies as a prevention tactic.

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