For two Rock Ridge High School and Academies of Loudoun seniors, the months in quarantine were time well-spent.
Abhishek Krishnan and Nihal Boina launched an app called Philio, which curates a personalized program featuring philosophical excerpts and activities to help users’ mental health. The teens call the treatment “stimulated introspection.”
“The whole goal of the app is to make people more holistic in the way that they conduct themselves, and to make sure that they don’t become too focused on a single 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 wellbeing of youth, they said.
“By being in isolation for prolonged times, health agencies like the CDC and NIH report that people report their mental health being at least 20% worse in this year compared to previous years. Moreover, students disproportionately report worse mental health outcomes due to the collective stress induced from school and solitude,” Krishnan said.
In Loudoun County, youth patients can expect to wait for months to see mental healthcare providers.
Krishnan said that he spent his time in isolation reading the works of philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and Friedrich Nietzsche. Krishnan thought that shifting peoples’ perspectives might offset some of the angst and depression they were feeling. Boina, his classmate, already had a knack for programming. The two dreamed up Philio, and researchers at the Stanford University Department of Psychology brought them on board as interns last summer. Their research at Stanford found that exposure to philosophy does, in fact, improve individuals’ mental health. They teamed up with software engineers to build the app, and within two months of launching on the Google Play app store, it ranked second in the trending Medical Apps category. It has already been downloaded over 5,000 times.
Users take a 40-question diagnostic test, distilled into ten categories, detecting trends ranging from political biases to personal capacity for empathy. From the results, the app constructs a philosophical profile for the user. An algorithm constructs a treatment plan that includes philosophical excerpts and activities that users can engage with on their phone.
Krishnan and Boina found that using the app over a ten-day span, users reported that their mental health had improved.
In October, they even pitched the app at the World Conference on Psychology Sciences in Los Angeles. The duo said they already have interest from investors, and they hope that Philio will be available in the Apple app store by February 2022.
Krishnan and Boina are both in the midst of a busy senior year, as they juggle the development of Philio and their college applications. They both hope to head to Stanford next year to study computer science and continue to work on the app. For Philio, they said, the early success is just the beginning.
“Even if you don’t believe in Frederick Nietzsche’s existentialism, or Immanuel Kant’s epistemology, understanding these perspectives can broaden your scope and make the actions you take in your daily life more meaningful,” Krishnan said.