Students to run hackathon to find innovative mental health solutions

Mr Timothy Liau (second from right) wanted to bring together young minds to work towards a better mental health support system, and the result is a 24-hour virtual hackathon over Zoom that will be run by him and his teammates, (from left) Ms Bhawana
Mr Timothy Liau (second from right) wanted to bring together young minds to work towards a better mental health support system, and the result is a 24-hour virtual hackathon over Zoom that will be run by him and his teammates, (from left) Ms Bhawana Sapkota, Ms Rachel Lee and Mr Low Jia En.PHOTO: KLAUS TAN

The bullying first occurred when Mr Timothy Liau was eight and happened again when he was 14.

When he was a Primary 2 pupil, his seniors would snatch the snacks he brought to school and crush them, calling him names. In secondary school, his classmates would throw his pencil case around the classroom.

The experiences caused him to develop symptoms of anxiety and depression. Stigma against mental health issues kept him suffering alone, afraid to seek help.

Eventually, he learnt to focus on things he found meaningful and invested his efforts in various mental health initiatives.

On Sept 4, Mr Liau, 21, a second-year computer engineering student at Singapore Polytechnic, and his team - comprising Mr Low Jia En, 23; Ms Rachel Lee, 21; and Ms Bhawana Sapkota, 18 - will launch what they believe is Singapore's first student-run mental health-themed hackathon, MindfulHacks.

Mr Low is a student at Kaplan Higher Education Institute, doing a management and international business degree from the University of London; Ms Lee is a third-year computer science student at Nanyang Technological University; and Ms Sapkota is a second-year computer engineering student at Singapore Polytechnic.

They are all friends who met at different times in their lives.

The 24-hour virtual hackathon, to be held over Zoom, aims to encourage innovative solutions to mental health issues and combat stigma against mental illnesses.

Participants will compete in teams to build a software project that addresses mental health issues.

Said Mr Liau: "The idea came to me in February, when I was a volunteer at (mental healthcare platform and app) Safe Space.

"Working there, I saw the wonders tech can do for mental health, so I thought about how I could bring together more young minds to work towards a better mental health support system."

As at yesterday, 185 participants have signed up. Registration closes on Aug 29, and participation is free.

Anyone studying at a local university, polytechnic, junior college or the Institute of Technical Education can sign up for the hackathon.

Those interested can visit the website www.mindfulhacks.org/ or check out Instagram account MindfulHacksSG for more information.

Said Ms Lee: "Through the hackathon, we hope to convey the message that a healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body.

"I want to bring together like-minded individuals on this journey to create a safe haven through technology."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 30, 2021, with the headline 'Students to run hackathon to find innovative mental health solutions'. Subscribe