Bengaluru: Ever heard the popular 'comeback' to an insult - "It takes one to know one"? While generally used as a "really suave" retort when you are at a loss for words, in this case, the phrase takes on a more profound meaning.
According to Psychiatry.org, OCD is an anxiety disorder in which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions). Kaajal Gupta is a 17-year-old coding prodigy who struggles with Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The daughter of Anunay Gupta, Managing Director at JP Morgan and Chase and Jyotsna Bapat, a professor at IIIT-B, Kaajal has been struggling with OCD ever since she was 13-years-old and after around two years of living with the illness, she learned how to manage it with the help of her family, friends and therapist.
Making the best out of her situation seems to be her USP as she put her interest in Android development, passion for coding and her condition to good use.
Having realised early on, that keeping a diary to track her compulsions wasn't working for her, Kaajal looked to different methods to help her manage her condition. She found an app on the Apple App Store, however, she didn't feel comfortable using it as it relied on the fear ladder (a list of situations you fear, listed from the least scary to the scariest). That's when she realised that she needed something better and decided to make it herself.
On a blogging site, Kaajal gave credit to her elder sister for suggesting that she build an app to help her keep track of her compulsions and manage her OCD.
Feeling a sense of responsibility for herself and for others struggling with the illness, Kaajal used her own experience with OCD and its management and got to work on an app. With a team of ten students from the ages of 15 to 20 from all over the world, Kaajal took from May 2018 to November 2018 to build, test and launch the app- Liberate: My OCD Fighter.
Kaajal in the initial stages of her therapy, wasn't comfortable making entries in a physical diary, but she saw the merit in keeping one. "I remembered how my therapist had suggested that I keep a record of my compulsions, as well as the negative aspects of my day. Although I started writing one with hope, it didn’t work out too well. I was too absorbed in my compulsions to actually walk to my room, unlock my diary, and write something down... Moreover, due to the haunting fear of someone stumbling upon my diary, writing about my obsessive thoughts was out of the question... The concept of making an app to act as a diary would be very suited to solve these difficulties. A phone can be carried everywhere easily, unlike a book, so entering thoughts and tracking obsessive actions could be accomplished instantly with the help of gentle reminders from the app. Since all the inputs would be time-stamped, detecting trends, patterns, triggers might be much easier to do. Further, there’s the added guaranteed security provided with phones," she said in her blog post.
Liberate's major components are a diary, a tracker of obsessions and compulsions, exercises, a fear ladder and weekly reports automatically generated by the app that is sent directly to the user's personal therapist via email.
Asked how her app works, she said, "It's essentially a self-help app for people with OCD in which they can do a variety of things. There are a bunch of different tools on the app in which they can track their compulsions, add their obsessions, make diary entries, set goals and do many different exercises like cognitive behavioural therapy on the app."
"OCD makes people do things in a particular order and so you can fight the illness in small ways by postponing compulsions or changing the order in which you do things. That's slightly less intense than the fear ladder and that really helped me when my OCD was at its worst. So I added that as well," she said regarding the exercises on the app.
Asked if she received any funds for her app, Kaajal said that there was no funding. "Everyone else who worked with me was willing to do it without pay. I had a team of around ten people who helped with graphics, the content of the app, some coding aspects and web development aspects. I made the entire app like the data backend and the front end by myself," she said, adding that she took unofficial inputs from a psychologist and a college professor while developing the app.
Kaajal is currently a student at The International School Bangalore and spends about an hour a day on her app, trying to maintain a balance between work and studies.
The app is currently available on the Google Play Store only in India and the US and is free to download. It has more than 1,000 downloads so far and has a rating of 4.9 out of 5 stars with 20 reviews.
A user who gave the app a 5-star rating said in her review, "This app is so incredibly useful at helping me track my compulsions and that's helped me develop plans and commitments that genuinely work... not only does the app have a remarkable UI, but the creators were so helpful for any doubt throughout the process. The app provides for almost every single scenario that you would possibly need and that inclusivity is so beneficial. I've been recommending Liberate to every single person I know who works with/has OCD. In full: thank you for this app!"
Asked if she plans to launch the app on the Apple App Store, Kaajal said, "I am looking to get help for the IOS development as I'm not as fluent in it as Android development. We are still not looking for funding as I would prefer it if people who came to work would do so willingly. We may require funding if we don't find anyone else to help me."
She also said that they are looking to release the app globally within the next few months, as a lot of people have been asking for the app in different countries after she posted about it on different blogs.
In her free time, Kaajal keeps busy, trying to promote her app. "We are using three main methods to promote the app. Social media, OCD support groups and blogs are the major part of the promotions. We are also connecting to schools in Bengaluru and I'll also be making a few presentations on the app. I will also connect with psychologists and psychiatrists, taking the app to them and seeing if they can recommend it," she said.
Asked about the future of her app, Kaajal said, "We've recently submitted a proposal to NIMHANS to test the app in clinical trials. Some professors there have drafted a proposal and are willing to actually test the app out. Besides that, we are just largely working on a collaboration with NGOs and seeing what we can do with them and just connecting to different schools and spreading the message about OCD as well as about the app."
As of now, Kaajal plans to focus just on OCD. "Maybe later, we will expand into other mental illnesses like depression or general anxiety disorder," she said.
Asked if the app stores any personal information about the users, Kaajal explained that it only takes a person's email address. "There's no name taken either. It's just a nickname if they want. No one has access to the reports, not even me. Only the therapist gets an email automatically generated by the app," she said.
About Liberate: My OCD Fighter
Liberate: My OCD Fighter is an all-in-one app that connects the user's compulsions, obsessions, personal goals and thoughts to their specialist-advised therapy. It makes for a planned resolution of your anxieties and is designed to generate more positive thoughts and emotions.
With a user-friendly interface and a simple, functional design, the app provides a platform for the user to manage their OCD in an effective way. The physical features of the app, allow for a graphical and interactive experience for the users, thus creating a space to easily fight compulsions.
The app helps the user learn more about OCD, providing information about the causes, types and methods to combat it. It offers features to track the user’s compulsions, building an environment suitable to control their OCD. Controlling OCD for the long-term is done using various ways to resist and weaken compulsions, including scheduling of a worry-time for users, controlling of compulsions, creating a fear ladder, setting of goals and connecting with their therapist through the app.
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