Chennai-based Harshini Raji develops a chatbot on Facebook Messenger that supports mental wellness
Chennai-based Harshini Raji has become a hero for many who have been struggling with mental stress and anxiety across the country. The 27-year-old Chennai resident developed a free-for-all chatbot called Mental Wellness, which helps people calm their mind in stress and also guides users to practice gratitude and meditation.
“It started as a side project but I am really happy to receive messages that the Chatbot genuinely helped people feel better and taught them new things. I continued working on it, just for the joy,” begins Harshini.
The onset of the pandemic left everyone feeling psychosocially distressed, helpless and anxious. Harshini felt it was the right time to reach out to people and hence she developed the Facebook Messenger supported Chatbot, with an objective to promote positivity and mental well-being. The bot gives basic tasks and activities that help users feel relaxed and better.
Harshini started working on this when she was going through a low phase mentally. A sense of aimlessness and lethargy enveloped her and she wanted to pull herself out of it. “I thought that there could be more people going through the same thing, and I thought of doing something to help all of us feel better. I was also reading about mental wellness during this period. I thought what if I made a friend whom anyone can interact with and who will help us feel better at any time during the day? I gathered more information and jumped into developing the bot,” she explains further.
Initially, Harshini thought of developing an app but wasn’t sure whether people would be willing to go to the app store to download the app and use it. “I thought a Facebook enabled Chatbot is user-friendly and easier for a lot more people to engage with. Anyone can look up for mental wellness on the Facebook Messenger app and look out for the pink logo. They will start getting messages once they join the bot,” she explains.
Once Harshini decided to make the Chatbot, she recalls, that she would write down the user flow and scripts to feed into the bot. She decided on the basic activities the bot will help users perform and would feed in cues for the same. When asked about making a mental health tool without any professional experience, Harshini confesses that she does not have any mental health expertise but she closely worked with multiple psychotherapists and mental health practitioners who had been using their social media platforms to promote mental wellness. “I am not a mental health expert, I attended a few workshops and lectures and gathered information that might be required to provide basic mental health support and launched the Chatbot. Eventually, as I continued to learn more about mental wellness, I incorporated more activities and cues into the bot,” she reveals and recalls that she is proud that she could contribute to the nation with whatever she could. “I know someone who is feeding the needy and many people out there have been doing their bit during these difficult times. It makes me extremely proud and happy that I am able to contribute too,” expresses the techie.
A strong supporter of digital transformation and AI, Harshini, intends to build a tool that suggests greater opportunities for future research in technology-driven psychiatry. “I understand that there is a digital gap in India and technology may not be accessible to many at the moment, but the gap is gradually decreasing and this gives us more opportunities to provide mental healthcare across borders, making it accessible to all,” she avers.
A graphic designer by profession, Harshini is a PhD student at Anna University and is currently working on expanding the Chatbot to add more elements to help others in the society. “I hope to work on regional language versions to make it more accessible,” she says. As of now, Harshini is working on a chatbot that gives updates on vaccine slot opening as well as messages to promote pro-vaccination behaviours among its subscribers.
How does it work?
The Chatbot provides guided activities that promote positive affirmations, meditation and exercises. The bot helps people by providing tips on gardening, immunity boosting drinks, etc., which they can try and make every day that may help them in feeling better. The bot focuses on three aspects - meditation, positive affirmations and physical exercises. If a user chooses meditation, the bot shares a five-minute audio clip, which will guide them to perform meditation. There are gratitude reminders, journaling, doodling, and much more.