Express News Service
The social isolation and emotional trauma in the pandemic has led to an increase in mental health issues across age groups. However, teenagers especially are not comfortable openly discussing their state of mind fearing taboo and ostracism.
In a bid to offer mental health support to young individuals, a group of Grade 11 students Akkshansh Bagga, Akshat Jain, Yash Kataria, Muskaan Chawla, and Aryan Misra from Shiv Nadar School, developed an AI chatbot Sparky that provides non-clinical support to deal with stress and anxiety.
This portal monitors the mood of users, and helps them express their thoughts and emotions through therapeutic conversations. For individuals who may be open to the human connection, the portal connects them with others facing similar issues.
Before creating the bot, the students conducted a survey with a sample size of 500 young adults to gauge the issues people are going through during the pandemic.
“Research studies prior to the pandemic showed 14.5 per cent adolescents in India have anxiety disorders. And our final data analysis revealed that in our school, one in four students were showing symptoms of diagnosable anxiety,” says Bagga, who did the graphic designing for Spark the Spirit (sparkthespirit.in).
Misra, who handles the research, animation, prototype design and sensor positioning, says, “Since everything went digital in the pandemic, we tried to adapt to it and create something online.”
They decided on the topic for the bot, and have been working on it for the past 16 months, regularly introducing new features. Chawla says, “We had even added a question that asked users if they would like to use a device that could help them manage anxiety, and were surprised that more than a third of them said ‘no’.”
To make the chatbot, they used Google platform Dialog Flow. “To integrate into a website, we used java Script. It’s an ever-improving process, and we are still adding new features,” says Jain. How does the chatbot work? On the homepage, there is an animated bird to the right. Clicking on it takes you to the chatbot Sparky.
The bot asks a set of introductory questions, and gradually asks the user if they would like to answer certain questions. Misra says, “We have designed these questions based on the general Paediatric Symptom Checklist 35. Additionally, some calculations go on at the back end. And at the end of the course, it diagnoses anxiety and other problems and suggests therapeutic songs, grounding exercises and inspirational videos from a resources’ page on the website, to calm the user down. For concrete solutions, they will have to visit counsellors and therapists.”
Chawla, who does sound production and manages public relations, adds, “These resources have been curated by us but we have been in close communication with counselors throughout the project.”
Over 1,200 users have used the chatbot. “We also have clubs where we equip students to help others. We teach them about mental disorders, anxiety, other day-to-day problems and ways to deal with them. Right now, we have club sessions for schools across five cities, and we hope to expand it across India,” adds Jain.