An Indian university is piloting a mental health app that aims to help students cope with stress.
The app, Lantern, comes from a 2012 start-up based in San Francisco. Users complete a survey that measures their stress levels, and then do daily exercises to practice basic stress management techniques like deep breathing and muscle relaxation, according to India TV News.
The app’s method is based on the popular therapeutic technique Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and it was developed in partnership with experts from Stanford University, Penn State University, and Washington University in St. Louis. Megan Jones, the company’s Chief Science Officer, says that studies show the app reduces anxiety by 40%.
Shashank Bengali of the LA Times quoted Anthony, a 22-year old student who tried the app, who found that it was effective:
By the third month I had very good control over my emotions and the way I handled stress. It showed. My friends would say, “How are you so calm and composed?” There was an evolution of sorts.
A 25-year-old research assistant at the Stanford School of Medicine, Nitya Kanuri, had the idea to introduce the app to students at the Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS). Like many Indian universities, most of its students are high-achievers. In a culture where talking about stress and trauma comes with a major stigma, the stress of college can become unbearable.
Standford’s program, called the Mana Maali (“garden of the mind”) initiative, also recruited counselors to have phone conversations with the students and check up on them via text messages.
Kumudini Velanand, a counselor in Hyderabad, said that these students need a support network:
Each and every family wants their child to be an engineer or doctor, whether they want to do it or not. Even if they did well in high school, once they come to college and they are put in with hundreds more students, they find it very difficult. But they can’t talk to their parents about it, and they are reluctant to tell their peers.
India has 16% of the world’s population, but a third of the world’s suicides. Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi instated an ambitious mental health care policy, but then slashed the healthcare budget, making it hard to actually implement the new plan.
Lantern’s website said of its philosophy:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is all about the relationships between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT is problem-focused and action-oriented, with the goal of addressing specific challenges through hands-on exercises, practical strategies, and real-time tracking on how you’re doing.
Lantern’s creators hope that private and low-cost solutions like this app will encourage Indian students to seek help despite stigma.