Smartphone app wants to bridge the mental health divide


Through Nomalanga Tshuma October 11, 2021

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Cape Town – Clinical psychologist Allan Sweidan and former Uber Sub-Saharan Africa Managing Director and Director Alon Lits have officially launched their own mental health services app called Panda.

The app’s launch, which took place over the weekend, coincided with World Mental Health Day, celebrated on October 10 internationally. According to the duo, Panda was built to bridge the gap between people in need and mental health care services.

Sweidan, who previously co-founded and led the Akeso Psychiatric Hospital Group, said: “I have always been interested in the challenge of making mental health care more accessible. When I met Alon Lits, who previously ran Uber in sub-Saharan Africa, I realized that together we could create something very powerful: an app that provides different levels of mental health care and support.

“We were trying to respond to the over 75% of people who have mental health issues have no access to care. Panda is a free downloadable digital app designed to put mental health information, community support, and expert help literally in the palm of your hand.

“Panda serves as a triage system for people with psychosocial issues, and because you log in anonymously, almost all of the care you get on the app is anonymized, so no fear of stigma. The pandemic has also taken a huge toll on people’s mental health.

“Panda was conceived and developed as a viable way to respond to this growing large-scale mental health crisis, not only through the digital delivery of support and information, but also by helping to de-stigmatize mental problems,” said Sweidan said.

The technical application of the duo has five main functionalities. The Bamboo Forest, a platform where Panda users can interact with peers who are having the same issues as them in a safe, anonymous, audio-only environment. Chat support, where users can speak to a registered advisor multiple times for 14 days.

“Life-Skills content, where users can use videos, exercises and easy-to-read explanations on how to practice mindfulness. The fourth feature includes screening assessments and ways to track your progress. Our latest feature is coming soon, ”Sweidan said.

“We just wanted to create a platform where mental health support was achievable, simple, accessible and, if necessary, anonymous. Without stigma, using technology to do it, just tied together. “

Panda Co-Founder Alon Lits said: “During my time at Uber, I had first-hand experience of the tremendously positive impact that technology can have on an industry, the economy and most importantly. , on the lives of individuals and families.

“I am convinced that Panda has the potential to have the same positive impacts, on the mental health industry as a whole and in the lives of millions of people facing mental health issues. To celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month in South Africa, Panda users can access all of the app’s features for free, ”said Lits.

About Shirley A. Tamayo

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