Published: 22nd June 2019
This Bengaluru school student created an app to help people with OCD keep things in order
The 17-year-old, a passionate coder and developer herself, began working on the app from May 2018, and it was finally launched in November
Nearly four per cent of the population in our country suffers from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) — which means that one in every 25 people have OCD. How many times have we mocked a friend exhibiting OCD-like symptoms because they like keeping things organised or need things to be in a line? The truth is OCD is a way more serious and complex mental disorder than most of us are aware of or would like to believe. I realised how complicated and uncontrollable it was when I experienced a short episode three years ago. That's when I understood how it leads to a person having recurring thoughts, sensations (obsessions) and repetitive behaviours (compulsions).
Now imagine how all of these experiences would have been for a 16-year-old. Diagnosed with OCD at just 13 years of age, Kaajal Gupta from Bengaluru developed the first and only self-help app for people with OCD in India. Called Liberate: My OCD fighter, the app provides an online self-help diary to people suffering from OCD. "Liberate compiles all the resources required to fight OCD to the highest possible extent. Several different features like keeping track of your compulsions, connecting you to a therapist, a diary to write down your thoughts and a lot of mental exercises make the app the first of its kind in the country. It is essentially an app that can be used in conjunction with therapy," explains Kaajal, who is 17 years old now.
People don't take OCD seriously
Kaajal, who is an eleventh grader at the International School Bangalore, was born in the USA but brought up in Bengaluru. She believes there's a lot of stereotyping and stigma associated with OCD and that it's really important to spread basic awareness about the mental disorder. She recalls, "When I was first diagnosed with OCD I noticed people around me didn't take it seriously when I said I arrange things in a certain way as I have this disorder. A lot of them said I know what it is, I have it too, but it actually discounts a lot of struggles that people actually having OCD go through. It's a disturbing and serious disorder and they are reducing it to perfectionism. I think it's really important to raise awareness about all mental illnesses."
A view of the app's interface
One app to help them all
While struggling with her own compulsions since she was diagnosed, Kaajal takes us through her journey in developing the app. "When I realised that something was different about me, I almost immediately decided to visit a therapist. I was aware of the problems I felt and I needed to know what was going on and what needed to be done to get back to normal. So my therapist suggested that I begin keeping a diary for around a week. And I began writing one with a lot of hope, however, it did not work out well for me at all because I was too wrapped up in my compulsions to actually walk into my room, unlock my diary, and write something down. There was a lack of motivation that was also present in order to go through the process several times a day. So I always wanted to find an easier method to keep track of my thoughts and get motivated. My sister suggested that I create a mobile diary for that purpose. I also thought about other people like me who go through the same ordeal every day of their lives. And not everyone carries a physical diary with them wherever they go. And that's when I began planning for something easier, something available on the phone as people have their phones with them throughout the day," says Kaajal.
The 17-year-old, a passionate coder and developer herself, began working on the app from May 2018, and it was finally launched in November. The app provides a secure space for people suffering from OCD to enter their thoughts and track obsessive actions or repetitive behaviour. The app does a lot for you with its features such as scheduling your worry time, controlling compulsive behaviour, connecting you with your therapist and also get you external support whenever required.
Help from across the spectrum
However, Kaajal says she couldn't have done this alone and needed some professional help and guidance. "I worked on it with the help of around 10 teenagers from around the world with whom I connected through the internet. I did the programming myself and they helped with a lot of graphics and other content on the app. A few NIMHANS professors also helped me, unofficially, of course. I asked a few illustrators from around the world to help me for free and they agreed. We collaborated online over the course of those six months and I told them what I wanted — what colour schemes and some interactive illustrations," adds Kaajal.
The app is completely free and is only available on Android currently, but Kaajal says they are already working on the iOS version. It is only available in India and the US where people have already downloaded it more than 1,000 times after its Play Store launch in November. Kaajal and her friends are also doing their part in spreading awareness. "We have started a school outreach programme in which we are creating materials and sending out to schools who want to conduct sessions about OCD awareness — what it is, what are the symptoms and when to seek help. We will also be conducting awareness sessions in Bengaluru," she adds.