Health & Medicine

Teens come to Sacramento State to boost mental health on mobile

XSuffering from a mental health condition? There’s an app for that, according to teenage programmers.

About 50 high school students from around the Sacramento area joined forces this fall to create apps tackling conditions such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and autism.

They displayed their projects on the California State University, Sacramento, campus Friday with the hope of winning the attentions of biotech industry representatives. Their creations, developed as part of the Psych-Tech App Development project, ranged from apps delivering news and other content tailored for target audiences to digital organizers that help people keep track of their mood and diet.

“If there’s an idea they can run with, we’re going to give them resources at the industry and college levels to see it through,” said Darrell Parsons, coordinator for the Crane career pathways program – a state-supported initiative that helps launch students into industry sectors such as health, information technologies, agriculture and engineering. Crane collaborated with Sacramento State and the Sacramento Valley Psychological Association on the project.

High school students first met with their Sacramento State mentors in September and were given seven weeks to brainstorm and build out their mobile apps. Some of the students were computer science whizzes who wanted to apply their skills to psychology, while others were aspiring doctors seeking an introduction to web development.

Sarah Turner, a senior at Woodcreek High School in Roseville, said she was excited to team up with fellow students to develop an app for people on the autism spectrum as well as their families because everyone on her team knows someone with the condition.

They ultimately came up with an app that provides a database of autism-related news and products as well as a chat room, interactive games and soothing music tailored for people on the spectrum. Her team won the award for best conceptual design.

“This was our first time developing, so we were nervous when we started,” Turner said. “But we all want to work in the medical field in the future, and we know mobile is going to be a big part of it.”

The winning app for technical execution addressed depression, which team members said was a growing problem among their peers.

Their Bloom app aims to make it easier for people with depression to get back on track with their daily routines by identifying activities that improve their moods. Users can note their diet, activities and moods in a given day, and the app will analyze that data to make suggestions for the future, said Bernard Zhao, a senior at Oak Ridge High School in El Dorado Hills who helped create the app.

Zhao said working with the Sacramento State students helped his team narrow their broad ideas into something they could actually complete in their short time frame. The team hopes to add other features to the app in the future, such as a geographic locator for making note of places that users associate with positive feelings.

“It’s interesting to see how technology and psychology intersect,” Zhao said. “People are on their phones so much these days. If you can use a phone to improve someone’s mental state, it could be really effective.”

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola