Innovations Abound At First Mental Health Care Hackathon


In less than 24 hours, Yale's first mental health care hackathon produced a number of innovative ideas, including devices that would assist people who can't speak and another that would improve communications between patients and doctors.

Organized by the new student group BulldogHacks, "Hack the Brain: Rethinking Our Approach to Mental Health" took place Friday and Saturday at the Center for Engineering Innovation & Design. Claudia See '17, who founded the BulldogHacks, said her work with CBIT's Healthcare Hackathon last spring was the inspiration for the event.

Participants were grouped into teams and instructed to identify a problem in the field of mental health and then find a way to solve it. Each team received advice from one of the 10 mental health care experts participating in the event.

"The seven final presentations on Saturday afternoon were phenomenal, addressing unmet needs participants themselves had experienced and providing innovate and simple solutions through apps and technology," See said.

The competition was divided into three categories. The $600 prize for innovations in the field of mental health awarded to two teams, Connect Haven and Connect Right. The two-person team of Connect Haven presented an app designed to help patients find a psychiatrist matched specifically to patients' needs. Team members explained that mental illness can be extremely costly for families, and an app that can simplify many of the logistics could go a long way to alleviating the burden on a family.

Connect Right created an app that gives fast and accurate recommendations for doctors, which team members noted is a problem because existing data bases are often out of date. One of the app's features uses crowdsourcing technology to determine whether certain doctors are accepting patients at any given time. The app would also make use of the state licensing board and insurance claims databases.

The $400 prize for innovations in treating autism went to the one-person team of Isaac Reilly. His app, Linguatron, was made for large percentage of people with autism who can't speak. Linguatron allows users to draw something and the app will identify what it is. Current technology allows users to click on existing icons to communicate, but Reilly noted that the process is laborious and the number of icons available are limited.

And the $250 prize for the best proposal focusing on underserved populations went to Culture Shock, a team that focused on the high-rate of depression among international students. The team created an app that encourages socialization, exercise and other ways to combat culture shock. Team members referred to it as "a friendly way of getting students to learn about new social situations that might be culturally unfamiliar to them."

A panel of judges that included Deputy Dean of SEAS Dr. Vincent Wilczynski and CEID Assistant Director Dr. Joseph Zinter assessed the proposals.

The event kicked off Friday with a series of keynote speakers. Among them, Seth Feuerstein, Faculty Advisor Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, said the field of mental health care is in great need of innovative thinking. To illustrate how convoluted the field is, he displayed the "Hassle Map" – a tangle of lines, each pointing to a different problem that mental health care professionals regularly deal with.

Kyle Jensen, Associate Dean and Shanna & Eric Bass Director of Entrepreneurship at the Yale School of Management, told the participants that creating a start-up is challenging, but "one of the best adventures you can pursue in your life. "

"You have an opportunity to change the world in some ways, do things, be bold and brave, and I encourage you to do that," he said. "I think in the particular case of mental health care, it's a great opportunity to make a real difference in people's lives."

Inspired by the success of their first event, See said BulldogHacks are already thinking about future hackathons. "We are presently seeking student opinion on what topics they would like to see for future hackathons, and are also on the lookout for undergraduates excited to join our group," she said.