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A team from Persistent Systems answered the call with their solution to address mental health during and after natural disasters.

From our perspective, collected experience, and research, we realized that it is hard to visualize the impact that a mental health problem can have on people when you or someone you know have not suffered from them. Mental health problems, like stress or anxiety, can decrease a person’s quality of life, personal relationships, and physical health.

On the other hand, if you have dealt with mental health issues, you know that it is hard to overcome the crisis without professional guidance and help. The importance of being informed and understanding what is happening to you is a key factor to quickly managing a crisis, such as experiencing a natural disaster. Education is critical for everyone to understand the impact and needs during a crisis. Someone who has not endured a significant experience tends to minimize the priority, risks and needs of patients, and might even have discriminatory attitudes when it comes to prioritizing health needs.

Our group, Team CALMH, was formed with engineers from Persistent Systems Mexico, with each team member having different skills and background. We wanted to create something around natural disasters with a focus on mental health, from this year’s added emphasis on healthcare.

Team CALMH members

The five members of our group came up with the name Team CALMH, which stands for Collaboration Assessment and Learning for Mental Health.

I am a senior QA project manager with more than 10 years of professional experience and over 25 patents filed at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USTPO). I’ve been very close to victims of stress and anxiety problems in my family, and I know how unpredictable crises can be and how multiple situations faced during a disaster (or even a lifetime) tend to cause unpredictable consequences in a person. When I heard that one of this year’s focus was to propose solutions that could help to mitigate the impact of natural disasters on the health of affected communities, including mental health, it immediately got my attention and I wished to propose a solution that could help potential victims of similar circumstances.

Bas Bekker, a senior software designer was also on my team, with more than 30 years of professional experience, said that this challenge was “a nice way to learn new skills, new technologies, in a different setting, with different people, for a good cause.”

Luis Peregrina is a senior software developer with more than 10 years of professional experience and had this to say about the overall experience: “I was told about a project that required somebody to help program, that it would be for a good cause, and that this was part of the Call for Codes initiative; I went ahead and agreed to it since this was humanitarian effort. It did take many hours in the office and at home, but I am satisfied with what we are doing and what it represents; I personally feel this is a fulfilling sensation and I got to know and work with great people on the team.”

team calmh hard at work

Aldo Vargas, a student in our internship program at Persistent Systems in Mexico, also joined our team and said, _”What good is having a talent if you don’t share it with the world? When I heard about Call for Code, I did not think about anything else but to try something. I have so many gifts that life has given me, that I have to give something back. That is why I decided to invest a lot of time and effort, I desire to make a better world. The principle of humanity is to help each other, but we have forgotten. Attending this call was a very good idea, I have learned too much, and I am very happy.”

Amilcar Yáñez, another student in our internship program at Persistent Systems in Mexico was also on our team. “When I read about Call for Code, I felt there wasn’t a better cause to get to coding. I got very motivated to help other people. Nowadays, it is very hard to find people that are working on developing something helpful that can make a real change to our world. I wasn’t sure about participating because I’m beginning my career, so maybe I don’t have a lot of knowledge; however, my team convinced me to join and we started to work on the idea and then improved it a lot more when meeting with professionals of mental health. Sharing knowledge and working together, that’s how the best things are done,” said Yáñez.

During our research we had a chance to talk to different domain experts, doctors, psychiatrics, and psychologists that shared their experiences on what a crisis can be like and the most effective steps to face it. We used their feedback to complete the design and created our solution.

We are amazed by what we have accomplished so far: we built a very good network of people from different institutions interested in this area and in the project. We have learned so much about mental health problems, treatments, and specific consequences related to events or natural disasters.

A key motivation has been the support from Persistent Systems. Our management team and teammates gave us the support and encouraged us to complete the solution.

We are thrilled with the massive support and feedback from IBM; from their initial support at the “Call for Code” event at Persistent Systems, and then on multiple interactions in the Slack Channel, and during the review of deliverables before the submission. We also found useful materials to learn about IBM services in the Call for Code site, which allowed us to be intentional in implementing the IBM services we used in our solution. IBM support has been key for the success of the program.

As for the cloud implementation, it was very quick to ramp up development using IBM services; for example, we used the Node.js Express framework to provide the REST API services and the Cloudant NoSQL database for storage, all running on IBM Cloud.

The solution

The general components in our solution considers three main steps during a disaster:

Before a natural disaster
Educate potential victims about mental health potential issues and recommended actions by teaching them key breathing exercises and activities that can help individuals calm down faster. The solution also educates communities on the mental health consequences of natural disasters.

During a natural disaster
Use our application to receive mental health first aid. By running our assessment component, the individual will be able to provide some basic details of the situation symptoms and get a list of recommended actions and basic therapy best practices.

After a natural disasters
Our application helps people build a volunteer network of mental health specialists that can help with additional recommendations and long-term follow up for patients; these volunteers can be located worldwide and can provide support with specific recommendations to the impacted communities through our system. Recommendations are also provided for affected individuals looking for the closest professional assistant in the area once the natural disaster emergency has passed.

Finally, our solution addresses NGOs’ and administrators’ efforts. To aid their humanitarian efforts, the application will be build different views and metrics about the impact of specific disasters on the mental health of affected communities.

We know this is just the beginning of this project, but we are certain we can make a big impact and we will continue improving it. Below is a picture of our team with the first runner up trophy at the Call for Code Day at Persistent on July 21, 2019. We were very proud of this accomplishment and continued working on our project, which we completed and submitted on the Call for Code deadline on July 29.

team calmh wins

Learn about the tech and resources Team CALMH used in their solution