Launched on Tuesday 7 April 2020, the ChatBot offers a free and easily accessible way for young adults to use talking therapies without added financial pressures.

In 2018, 82% of secondary school students who wished to seek advice regarding their wellbeing were not able to but were able to have access to a smartphone. Design Director Stephen Horner from RUSH says, “we started this design process after discussing with a number of clinical psychologists from Australasia. After talking to a number of young people from South Auckland, we realised that the pressures they were facing didn’t stop once they went home after school – most students wanted a stranger to talk to, confide in and depend on without any consequences. That’s when we decided to create the character of Aroha.”

“We are seeing clever Kiwi ingenuity with Aroha created by the resilient teens team together with Rush to support our young people in difficult pandemic times,” says Professor Wayne Cutfield, Director of A Better Start National Science Challenge.

Aroha not only provides practical evidence-based tools for managing stress but it also provides practical ideas to maintain social connection, and to stay active and well through youth-friendly digital activities.

“Digital tools to support mental health and wellbeing are critical when face-to-face contact is restricted to those in your bubble,” says Dr Sarah Hetrick, Associate Professor in Youth Mental Health and Cure Kids Research Fellow at the University of Auckland.

“Two weeks ago, Aroha had less of a focus on isolation and COVID-19. We have been continuing to develop the site to not only provide more support for young people at this time, but also to provide a platform for young people to find a place to engage with mental health tools when they can’t leave their homes,” says Hetrick.

The ChatBot is based on a structured script, guided by clinical psychologists. The conversation is still directed via the student’s responses, and replies are almost automatic.

“Ensuring that rangatahi can access specific and culturally applicable activities is also important” says lead Māori researcher Tania Cargo, given we know that a strong cultural identity supports wellbeing.

Aroha can be accessed via http://tiny.cc/aroha and is accessible for all young adults across the country with an internet connection. It will continue to be upgraded and evaluated based on the needs of users over the coming weeks, and any feedback will be taken into consideration.

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