Bronte O'Brien

Goalzie: The app that sets quirky goals to improve mental health

Approx Reading Time-11New app for teens “Goalzie” isn’t just for fun…if you look beneath the surface you’ll find it was designed to improve their mental health too.

 

If you’re a teenager or have one hanging around, you may have already heard of Goalzie, a mobile phone app that lets you challenge your friends to a goal – and set a fun consequence for failing to complete it.

The pre-made goals range from amusing (respond to every text for a day only in emojis, draw a portrait of your challenger with your opposite hand) to ambitious (choose a university course you’re interested in and research it, put all your pocket money into savings), to creative (record a one minute film on your phone that tells a story, write a poem about your challenger) and to goals that foster personal development and healthy habits (eat five different vegetables in a day, meditate for ten minutes every day for a week).

If you fail, you might have to like every one of Justin Bieber’s Facebook posts in the past month, or not text for a day, do fifty pushups, use “yolo” and “swag” seriously for a week, or wear a onesie to the shops.

It’s easy to see that the app is designed to be a hit for young people who have a competitive streak, are ambitiously minded or just want a bit of fun to muck around with.

What’s not so obvious, however, is the fascinating story behind its creation, and the reason it was developed in the first place.

Goalzie was developed by Zuni, a digital marketing agency, The Young and Well Co-Operative Research Centre (YAW-CRC; an Australia-based, international organisation that focuses on how technology can be used to improve the wellbeing of young people), as well as the University of South Australia, Western Sydney University, and the Queensland University of Technology. YAW-CRC is partnered with over 70 organisations across the not-for-profit, academic, government and corporate sectors, including mental health organisations Beyond Blue, headspace, and ReachOut.

The idea for the app was sparked by research into mental health issues in teens. Mental ill health and mental illness in children and young people currently costs the Australian government $98.3 million each year, and if not caught early, can grow into bigger and more difficult issues to resolve, leading to diminished wellbeing and increasing the burden on existing support services. The creators identified that the stigma related to help seeking can prevent young people from identifying issues they are experiencing, and that engaging in and developing positive habits and behaviours is a vital way for teens to combat mental health issues.

Enter Goalzie. Although it certainly doesn’t appear to be more than a fun game for teens to play, the app is designed to help young people learn valuable behaviours to carry through into adulthood. The skills that can be developed range from physical, such as a dance workout; self-regulation such as going two days without Facebook; through to being creative and making a Vine; and being healthier by giving up chocolate for a week. By interacting with peers and challenging their friends, this social aspect can also help improve wellbeing.

What makes the app even more appealing is that its development centred on the hands-on input of young people as well as researchers, digital strategists and creatives.

Because the app is linked through Facebook using the Connect function, it enables a meaningful collection of data to judge how successful the app will be. Valentina Borbone, Client Relationship Director at Zuni, says that “the anonymous data from the app will help us understand what co-variants, specific to the campaign, influence or indicate an individual’s propensity toward help seeking. Working closely with our research partners, we are developing an understanding of what types of activities can foster positive help seeking behaviours. This type of data can inform youth-related mental health services and help them develop better online tools and services that drive improved mental health outcomes.”

Goalzie isn’t the only innovative piece of technology to come out of this sphere. YAW-CRC and Zuni have embarked on a five-year-long research stream called “Safe and Well.” Goalzie builds on the success of Something Haunting You?, encouraging young men to seek help for everyday stressors; Appreciate A Mate, a social-based app promoting positivity online; and Keep it Tame, promoting respect online.

It appears to be a common myth that technology hampers or disrupts wellbeing. What Goalzie shows is that the immense power of the digital age can actually be used to protect and empower our young people.

In short, drawing a portrait of your challenger with your opposite hand might just be the key to good mental health.

 

Bronte O'Brien

Bronte O'Brien is a public speaker, writer, advocate, perennial student and prolific scribbler. By reputation she has simply become “The Journals Girl” by people who can't remember her name. However, you can simply refer to her by her initials - “Boob”.

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