Giving Everyone a Safe Place
How a High School Senior Created a Mental Health App

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Nandini Iyer, a senior at Mayo High School in Rochester, says her idea for a mental health app started as a prototype in 2018 and 2019. “I didn’t think of publishing it then. Then mental health became a more pervasive issue during the COVID-19 pandemic, with so many people having mental health struggles,” she explains.

She began work on the app, called SafeSphere, in 2020, when she was in ninth grade. “I wanted mental health resources to be more accessible and free to people,” she says.

Developing the app 

Iyer explains that the SafeSphere app took three years to code. She released it in February 2023, and it’s now a free app that anyone can download from the Apple App and Google Play stores. Iyer was the primary coder but also had help from an IT specialist who had been her mentor in the past, Chris Cavanagh. She makes all updates to the app herself and keeps adding more to it.

“I wanted it to be a universal app for anyone to destress and relax, even if they don’t have mental illness,” shares Iyer.

An award-winning app

In spring 2023, Iyer applied her app for the MN Cup, a competition for Minnesota entrepreneurs at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. “I didn’t think I would get it, and I was selected as a semi-finalist.” Iyer won the award in the Youth Division for her app, which included a cash price to use as a start-up fund. She has used this to enhance her app and to pay for app fees from Apple and Google.

Spreading the word about the app in Rochester schools

Iyer notes that her principal has been supportive of her app and helped her to meet with the Rochester Public School District Superintendent Dr. Kent Pekel. Pekel interviewed her about her app in a video that was emailed to everyone in the school district in September 2023.

Features of the app

The SafeSphere app includes many resources, such as links or contact information for local and national mental health resources. Examples of resources include Zumbro Valley Health Center, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Minnesota Adult and Teen Challenge, Help.org and the National Suicide Crisis Hotline.  “If someone is really struggling, we offer these resources.”

Various mental health activities are available in the app, too, such as music, podcasts, YouTube videos, Ted Talks, journaling and games. “The activities vary with each face, and the person can do the activities based on the face,” explains Iyer, referring to the faces on the app that people choose based on how they’re feeling, from happy to sad.

In the future, Iyer plans to add more in-app activities. “In the future, if I expand it, I’d like to make it more customized to each person,” considers Iyer.

How to get the SafeSphere app

The SafeSphere app is free and is available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. It is also on the website safesphereapp.org.

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Alison is a writer and editor living in Rochester, Minnesota, with her two dogs and her cat.

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