When Andrea Campos was eight years old, she began to express symptoms of depression. She began attending therapy sessions and reading self-help books to cope, but it wasn’t enough.

A self-taught coder, Campos began to develop a passion project that combined her two interests: mental health and programming. The result was Yana, a wellness app designed specifically to tackle negative thoughts linked to anxiety and depression.

Initially meant for personal use, Campos decided to make Yana accessible to anyone who could not access a specialist during the pandemic.

Photo courtesy of Apple

While Yana is not designed to substitute psychiatric treatment, Campos told mitú that the app functions like “an emotional diary.”

Users can engage with daily check-ins, specialized paths for self-esteem boosting, and a mental monitoring test that checks for symptoms of anxiety and depression every 14 days. In case of an emergency, Yana has resources to connect you to a mental health professional.

Structured to “explain how the mind works” using a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) framework, Yana seeks to make users aware of the normalcy behind every emotion thought.

“As long as you are aware that you have automatic thoughts all day every day, even if you do not realize it and that it impacts your emotions, it will be easier for you to manage your mental health,” she said.

While Campos hopes users gain comfort in recognizing and validating their emotional state, the stigma around mental health remains prevalent.

“When you approach people and ask questions about how they handle mental health or if they have problems with mental health, they tell you, ‘No! I’m perfect, I don’t have any of that,'” she explained.

When creating Yana, Campos learned that she needed to deviate from using the phrase “mental health” to attract users.

Photo courtesy of Apple

“Many times depression or anxiety is a cluster of managed emotions,” Campos explained. “So when [people] think of the word ‘Mental Health’ they automatically associate it with a disorder. They do not associate it with something that is handled every day.”

“The same way people understand the importance of exercising to prevent diseases or eating well, it’s important to have practices such as gratitude, awareness, and meditation that can also prevent diseases in the mind,” she said.

Avoiding the word association of “disorders, depression, or post-traumatic stress,” Campos focused on everyday issues such as insomnia, frustration, or even grief to identify problems at the source.

The lack of immediate treatment can be harmful. Prior to the pandemic, four-in-five people facing mental health concerns struggled to receive treatment in Mexico.

“In Latin America, we do not have the culture of prevention, we usually approach a doctor or a psychologist when we are already on the brink of catastrophe,” she said.

Education on mental health is the primary goal Campos hopes to tackle with Yana.

Photo courtesy of Apple

“When we are in kindergarten they teach us the alphabet, colors, but they don’t teach us the emotions,” she said.

While we are taught the basic emotions: happy, sad, angry, excited, Campos expressed the importance of teaching children how to understand their feelings instead of repressing them.

“My dream is to have a physical Yana robot in kindergarten classrooms where children who are punished, for example, can vent their emotions and can explain themselves instead of having to face the wall,” she said.

Yana, while focusing on the individual, is just the first step for Campos. Campos also wants to develop an app for one’s inner circle. Eventually, she hopes to expand the app to help children.

“The reality is that when we are sad we want to connect with our loved ones, not with strangers. We want to know that our parents, our friends, our partner love and value ​​us, in good times and in bad,” she said.

To bring people closer to their network instead of a stranger, Campos hopes to create a conjoined app for Yana to accompany one’s inner circle in educating how to support that person.

The App Store featured Yana for Women’s History Month. You can download the app from the App Store here.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis, text NAMI at 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor or visit info@nami.org. In case of an emergency please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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