Western University student and Catholic school grad Emmanuel Akindele has created an app to help parents identify mental-health issues in their child’s social media usage. Photo courtesy Emmanuel Akindele

App looks to catch mental health issues early

  • September 19, 2021

Emmanuel Akindele is working on an app to monitor mental-health concerns among youth in the hope it will keep children safe online now and into the future.   

The fourth-year Western University economics student developed Blue Guardian — an app for parents concerned about their children’s mental health due to their social media usage.

Through AI-driven technology the app analyzes content a child or adolescent has viewed and flags parents for potential mental-health concerns such as violence, gambling, pornography and bullying. Through emotional sentiment analysis programming, parents will be able to set filters to detect signs for depression and self-harm that could lead to suicide. Parents will be notified of any concerns and provided with appropriate resources to support the child’s mental and emotional well-being.

“Blue Guardian’s mission is essentially to give parents the tools inside the situation,” said Akindele, who also serves as a logistics officer with the Canadian Armed Forces. “We can detect mental-health issues and problems and connect parents and families with important mental-health resources to overcome them. Instead of it leading to a situation where it’s too late, we can essentially turn it into a positive thing where kids end up better off because the family has more resources to conquer the problem.”

The 21-year-old graduated from Mother Teresa Catholic Secondary School in London, Ont., in 2018 where he attained good grades and was a standout on the provincial champion basketball team. Despite being a seemingly well-rounded and sociable teenager, Akindele says like many high school students, he was challenged by anxiety related to social media. He was consumed with thoughts and concerns of what others thought of him and his online image.

“On face value when I would interact with people (in person), no one would have really guessed this was something I was struggling with alone,” said Akindele.

Three weeks before Akindele’s high school graduation in 2018 his life was rocked when one of his classmates took his own life. Words the father of the student shared at the funeral stay with Akindele to this day.

“(The death) was a big shock to me, the community and our school,” said Akindele. “I remember as a class we went to the funeral and the part of the eulogy I remember most from his father was when he said, ‘I didn’t know.’ That really struck me because it was the first time that I experienced loss. This was someone who was young, who was my age, and their life is over. Worse off their parents did not know (he were struggling).”

That incident became the impetus for Akindele developing the Blue Guardian app.

Exposure to digital media in Canadian family life is increasing, particularly during the pandemic, giving rise to increasing concerns about how screen time affects children, says Sue Devlin, mental-health lead with the Kenora Catholic District School Board. Parents are often not well versed in technology and don’t have the knowledge to really understand the many potential risks and challenges children face in the digital space. She says an app that summarizes pertinent information and provides credible resources could be a game changer.

“We’re constantly learning because kids are moving to new apps and platforms non-stop,” said Devlin, who has been with the board for six years after a decade as a frontline mental-health worker at a children’s agency. “We are always concerned about screen time and making sure there’s safe and healthy use because of the impact on so many other areas of kids’ lives. I think a one-stop shop would be great for parents. There’s a lot of misinformation out there and you want to make sure what they’re getting is based on evidence and best practice. If there was an app that I knew I could go to, I think that would be great.”

Akindele personally designed the user interface and user experience and has been working with a developer to build the back end of the software. In addition to flagging for mental-health concerns the app will also include a GPS tracking device which, among other things, will notify parents their child arrived safely at school or on the bus.

The software is now entering the final testing period before it goes live. Akindele continues to work with experts in mental health and with parents to customize the platform to meet their needs. Investing most of his time in this project, Akindele says it’s his goal that the platform will reach children and parents around the globe, bringing potentially life-saving information to their fingertips.

“I want kids around the world to have better access to mental health,” said Akindele. “Can we give parents and families better access to resources around the world? That’s the question that we’re trying to answer.”

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