Can technology be applied to mental health care? Can it be a tool to help stabilize emotional well-being? Fighting her own symptoms of depression was what motivated Andrea Campos Guerra to create Yana (You Are Not Alone), an app that accompanies people who suffer or believe they suffer from this illness.
At the age of 27, this Mexican woman began working on it while studying programming, it was the final project of a course she took in 2016. Today, the app has more than 7 million users around the world. In December 2020, Campos Guerra was one of the three winners of the Women that Build Edition award of the Globant Awards.
“It started as a solution to a personal problem. I have struggled with depression for many years and had very strong episodes when I had been learning to code for a year and a half. So I asked myself: “How can I put together what I’m learning in programming with what I’m learning in therapy to build something that will help me survive the next episode?” Because I knew I was certain I would have another one. When I started talking with more people and presenting the proposal, is that I realized the tremendous problem that depression is and that this platform could serve other people, ” says Campos Guerrero.
Yana is a chatbot, an automated conversational agent with an attention strategy based on cognitive-behavioral therapy, it provides support to people with depression, anxiety or emotional issues. It has both free and paid features through a monthly subscription and participation is 100% anonymous. “The bot is not trained to attend a crisis; but if it is detecting the symptoms, it interrupts the conversation, communicates it to you, asks you for confirmation , and if it is correct it shows you the crisis hotlines you can reach in your country and gives you recommendations, such as contacting your relatives and doctors ”, Describes the creator of Yana.
—What was your path as an entrepreneur like?
—The first two years were complicated on both the legal and regulatory aspects, because there was no clear precedent in Mexico, so we ended up launching the app between March and April 2020. At first it grew at a normal rate but our takeoff was in October, which is mental health month, when the app store recommended Yana and our user base took off. Right now we have 7 million registered users.
—”What obstacles did you encounter along the way? Did you feel like your age or gender were some of them?”
—No, I didn’t feel that gender and age had an influence, but I did have obstacles. When I started, everyone was telling me that I needed a co-founder. That made perfect sense, I understood the purpose behind it, but to me the logic was that I would only do it if I got the right person and that didn’t happen. Everyone told me that I wouldn’t be successful if I did it alone. Another obstacle was that it was a social project: it is often thought that if it’s social it doesn’t make money. It took me three years to raise my first round of financing and it was 110 thousand dollars the first time, the second was at the beginning of this year and three months ago we closed the third. But this was after it had taken off, prior to being featured by the app store, we were not successful .
“What did you learn?”
—Something I always say is that you don’t have to undertake just because. I don’t know when it became a trend that suddenly you have to have your own business. If you don’t have something very specific, a “pain” that you want to solve, I recommend not to take something on. Truth is that it’s going to get very difficult and if you don’t have that constant motivation, it is going to be difficult to achieve it. Something else I learned is not to obsess over a particular path. They told me that I wouldn’t be able to build the app without a co-founder. Another thing that they told me, repeatedly, was that I needed to launch, that it was taking too long, but my business was not a food delivery service. There is no straight path, nor a single formula to be successful with your endeavor, you have to trust one and respect your values.
– Do you think technology can be put to the service of mental health?
—A few months ago, Yana was the most downloaded app in Mexico and in 13 other Latin American countries and it was something very nice not only at a company level, but we also saw it as an achievement that a mental health app reached number #1. I believe that technology can contribute much more to mental health care. On my part, my project for the next 10 or 15 years is Yana, although I would like to get more involved in mental health education. I think we could have a very different world if we were taught how to manage our emotions as children.