ALLENDALE, Mich. (WOOD) — There are plenty of resources available for anyone battling depression, but sometimes people might not realize they’re dealing with it. A Grand Valley State University professor hopes to find a way to detect signs of depression with an app. 

“There are so many types, so many shades of depression,” said GVSU assistant professor of computer science Rahat Rafiq. 

Rafiq said he’s no medical doctor, but he does know mental health can impact anyone. He moved to the U.S. from Bangladesh in 2013.

“I was all alone. I didn’t speak the language. Think of the culture, I didn’t know anyone. The food is different. Every, every shop gets closed at 8 p.m.” he explained. “And then my professors, my responsibilities, my Ph.D., my research. I was a teaching assistant. All these things got to be so much and I was almost this close of quitting, but I wish I had some kind of help.”

Rafiq, an expert on cyberbullying in addition to computer science, knew there had to be some way to combine the two and get help for others who might not even know they need it.

“What if we can create an assistant that can understand somebody’s emotions and behave or talk or help them accordingly at one?” 

Rafiq’s goal is to develop an app that would detect tone of voice and pick up on whether someone is off. It won’t diagnose. It will simply initiate a conversation.

“If your voice is down compared to how they usually talk for a longer period of time, they must be stressed. There must be something bad happening. Maybe they are not talking to other people as much. Maybe they’re just, I don’t know, looking at depressing videos or whatever. If some kind of trend that I can track is happening, that if your social or behavioral synchrony is going down, the app will detect it and that app can initiate a conversation that is personalized,” Rafiq explained. 

The app would ideally be geared toward middle and high-school-aged students. The question though, would it be helpful?

“I can, of course, build an app, but what if nobody uses it? I want to make sure this is useful.”

For the past year, that’s what GVSU senior Aliah Lloyd has been working to find out.

“[I told Rahat] would be very interested in collaborating with you because I really appreciate your way of thought and I would love to contribute,” Lloyd explained. “We kind of created a project off of that and I kind of just started the research. So that happened last winter, so about a year ago. So, I’ve been kind of collecting data or organizing data and organizing our research project for about a year now.”

She hopes to get as much data as possible on various demographics to make the app as universal as possible. 

“At this moment, we’re really just trying to get that information. So, I’ve been doing a few interviews with students. My sister is actually currently a senior in high school, so I’ve been asking her friends. I’ve been going to different schools and I’m currently reaching out to other school districts as well,” Lloyd said. 

Having suffered from depression herself, this research is close to her heart, and she hopes the app will help teens better understand their current mental health status and find the resources they need to do that. 

“Taking my technology and something I’m very passionate about into research is something I didn’t imagine I could do and I’m really happy that I actually get to deal with Professor Rahat because he also is very passionate about this, which is hard to find I think, in my field of study,” Lloyd said. 

She believes if there is more awareness and resources that people know about, they won’t feel so alone. 

“If we can normalize it, if we can make it more aware, then it would be easier for people to understand that more.”