Two teens develop app to improve mental health


For two seniors from Rock Ridge High School and Loudoun Academies, the quarantine months have gone well.

Abhishek Krishnan and Nihal Boina have launched an app called Philio, which runs a personalized program with philosophical snippets and activities to help users’ mental health. Teens call the treatment “stimulated soul-searching”.

“The overall goal of the app is to make people more holistic in their conduct and to ensure that they don’t focus too much on one perspective in their life,” Krishnan said.

The two have spent nearly half of their high school careers in a pandemic that has ravaged the mental health and well-being of young people, they said.

“By being isolated for extended periods of time, health agencies like the CDC and NIH report that people are reporting that their mental health is at least 20% worse this year compared to previous years. Additionally, students disproportionately report mental health outcomes due to school-induced collective stress and loneliness, ”Krishnan said.

In Loudoun County, young patients can expect to wait months to see mental health care providers.

Krishnan said he spent his time in isolation reading the works of philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche. Krishnan believed that people’s changing outlook might compensate for some of the angst and depression they were feeling. Boina, his classmate, already had the gift of programming. The two imagined Philio, and researchers from Stanford University’s psychology department brought them in as interns last summer. Their research at Stanford found that exposure to philosophy actually improves the mental health of individuals. They teamed up with software engineers to create the app, and within two months of launching on the Google Play app store, it ranked second in the trendy medical apps category. It has already been downloaded over 5,000 times.

Users take a 40-question diagnostic test, divided into ten categories, detecting trends ranging from political biases to personal capacity for empathy. From the results, the application builds a philosophical profile for the user. An algorithm builds a treatment plan that includes philosophical snippets and activities that users can engage with on their phones.

Krishnan and Boina found that by using the app over a ten day period, users reported that their mental health improved.

In October, they even showcased the app at the World Conference on Psychological Sciences in Los Angeles. The duo said they are already interested in investors and hope Philio will be available in Apple’s App Store by February 2022.

Krishnan and Boina are both in the middle of a busy final year, as they juggle Philio’s development and college applications. They both hope to travel to Stanford next year to study computer science and continue working on the app. For Philio, they said, early success is just the start.

“Even if you don’t believe in the existentialism of Frederick Nietzsche or the epistemology of Immanuel Kant, understanding these perspectives can broaden your scope and make the actions you take in your daily life more meaningful,” said Krishnan said.

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