Posted on 16 June 2022, updated 7 April 2023
by Anastasia Zorlas, Product & UX Research Intern
My personal journey with mental health started in my senior year of high school. When I first experienced my mental wellness declining, I became very isolated from my support system – to the point where I kept all of my emotions inside and made sure that everyone I cared about stayed out. At the time, I was scared to bring up how poor my mental state was because I didn’t want anyone to worry about me. When I started college, I was lucky to meet people who understood what I was going through and helped me to find the right support.
Now I’m a fourth-year entrepreneurship and computer science student at Northeastern University. In January I moved to San Francisco for a semester to learn more about startups. I met Obi Felten, who had left Google X to start her company Flourish Labs, focusing on the student mental health crisis. I was drawn to Obi’s vision of ‘flourishing minds for all’ and her willingness to ask for help from students and people with lived experience of mental health challenges to ensure that the products Flourish Labs makes are what we need and want. I joined her as an intern, excited about the opportunity to make change for students who are struggling with their mental health and might not be as lucky as I’ve been in finding support.
Over the past few months, we have been working with groups of students from Northeastern University and our partner Active Minds to evolve the myala app. myala started out last September as a self-tracking app, helping you understand the ups and downs of your mind. It also offered quick access to crisis counsellors from Crisis Text Line.
But sometimes you’re not in crisis, you just want someone to talk to. I know from personal experience how hard it can be to reach out to a friend or family member for help when I’m feeling low. Who do I contact? What do I say to them?
In one of our design workshops with Northeastern students in the Bay Area, we discussed how difficult it can be to reach out for help exactly when you need it most.
We brainstormed ways to break down this barrier, and got inspired by the bat-signal beckoning Batman for help!
What if you could summon help from your friends with the tap of a button?
Today we’re launching the myala signal, which makes it easier to reach out and get support from your friends when you need it. Here is how it works:
- In the support section of the myala app, you can invite your friends or family to be part of your support team. After they accept, they appear in your support team list. You can add or remove supporters at any time.
- You can customize the text message that myala sends out to your friends when you ask for support.
- When you want support, all you need to do is tap the myala signal button in the app. myala sends a text message to each person on your support team with your message, asking them to get in touch with you.
The myala signal is not intended to replace crisis support. If you’re in a crisis and want an immediate response, please contact 988.
How we designed the myala signal with students, for students
In my internship, I learnt a lot about the process from idea to product feature launching in the app. Here is how we did it:
1. In our design workshop, we brainstormed how a bat-signal might manifest in the håp app.
2. We created a storyboard of the user experience.
3. We drew flow diagrams and a paper prototype with screen wireframes made of giant Post-It notes.
4. After the workshop, I worked with Nathan to transfer our paper designs into flows and wireframes in Figma, our user interface design tool. We discussed the flows and wireframes with our designer and our engineering team, and made some adjustments.
4. Our designer Charles turned our wireframes into screen designs for our engineering team to implement.
5. After our engineers built the feature, we tested an internal build with a small group of testers to make sure it worked properly.
myala is now freely available to all students
myala was launched last September in a closed beta test with a few hundred trusted testers, mostly Active Minds members and Northeastern students. We are hugely grateful to our testers who gave us plenty of feedback on how to improve and evolve the app.
Starting today, we are making the myala app freely available to any student over the age of 16 studying in the US. You just need an email address ending in .edu to sign into the app. As a myala user, you can invite friends and family to use myala with your personal referral link, even if they are not a student. Go to settings/refer a friend to share the app.
myala is still very much a work in progress. We welcome your feedback as we continue to design with students, for students. You can give feedback at any time by tapping the feedback button in the top right corner of the app, it looks like a speech bubble.
If you want to get more actively involved, we’ll be running more focus groups, online surveys and design workshops in the summer and fall. I’m staying on at Flourish Labs to do a coop placement for the rest of the year working on user experience research and product development, so look out for an invite from me to participate!
Coming soon: Peer supporter training in partnership with Youth Era
Starting this summer, Flourish Labs is partnering with Youth Era to offer peer support training for students. Youth Era is a nonprofit based in Eugene, Oregon who have been empowering teenagers and young adults with peer support for over a decade. Flourish Labs will be offering students the opportunity to work as a peer supporter during their studies after they successfully complete the training. We’re excited to bring peer support to more college students across the US.
Learn more at https://myala.app or download myala from the App Store or Google Play.
If you already use myala, the app will prompt you to update to the new version of the app with the myala signal. To manually update, go to the App Store or Google Play and tap ‘update’.
Learn more about peer supporter training and sign up at https://peers.net/give-support
Note: This blogpost was updated on 7 April 2023 to reflect the name change from håp to myala.
#mentalhealth #studentmentalhealth #livedexperience #peersupport #usercentereddesign #BuildInTheOpen