Flint student creating app aimed at fighting depression and anxiety

FLINT, Michigan -- Flint Southwestern student TK Thomas, 16, is a self-described “overachiever.” He’s an active member of The National Sorority of Phi Delta Kappa Inc Gamma Delta Kudos, National Honor Society, involved in his local church, a dance studio, and he just added two other roles -- entrepreneur and activist.

He -- like many people his age -- also deals with anxiety. Thomas is a participant in YouthQuest, a youth and afterschool program run by the Flint & Genesee Chamber of Commerce. Each year, the YouthQuest pitch competition includes creative student ideas. Thomas entered, inspired by the loss of his friend Nigel, by suicide, and by the millions of people nationwide who struggle with mental health issues. Thomas began drafting an app to help teens and young adults with depression, anxiety, and suicide prevention. He pitched the idea of his app, 100% Truth, and won the competition, both in regional and local categories.

“I wanted to enter because I wanted to bring a new, fresh idea to the table,” he said. “I had to analyze what problems this generation is facing ... I wanted to do something about a problem I see in the city of Flint, but also a problem that surrounds the whole entire world.”

Thomas knows that many young people don’t have a safe space to talk about how they’re feeling. 100% Truth aims to be that space, accessible to everyone. Regardless of availability to a therapist for face-to-face sessions, 100% Truth will be available on app stores for free download.

The app, currently in development, will feature self-care prompts, positive thinking, and journaling. The mission of the app really focuses on the most basic and important type of love -- self-love, according to Thomas.

“Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among adolescents,” he said. “I believe everyone should know that they are enough, and that their life is so precious. We all have our good days and bad days. No matter what you’ve been through, you are needed here on earth.”

In order to formulate the kinds of questions the app asks users, Thomas spoke to close friends, family members, colleagues, and shadowed therapists, asking questions about the field to better understand how to help people.

“Once you first open up the (100% confidential) app, no one will know but you,” Thomas said. “It will ask you about how your day is going, it will ask you about how you feel. It has a feature with journaling -- ‘if you feel sad, give me details on why you feel sad. If you feel happy, then great, tell me about the day.’”

Thomas hopes for the app, which he’s been working on since January, to be rolled out in early November. He spent months preparing for a face-to-face pitch competition, which was converted to a digital submission contest due to COVID-19, but hitting that submit button didn’t come easily to the perfectionist. Just as the app helps to improve self-confidence, Thomas felt some hesitation and self-doubt in his abilities.

“I recorded the video at least 59 times,” he said. “It took time editing the video, and piecing things together. I can say there was mixed feelings, basically, but I finally sat down with myself, and said, ‘hey, everything is not perfect in this world.’”

He was awarded a $500 prize in June for the pitch. After high school, Thomas hopes to study psychology or social work at Morehouse College in Atlanta.

“I really couldn’t believe it at first, because before I submitted the video, I was literally staring at the submit video (button) like ‘do I want to do it again, do I have time?’ Going back and forth with myself,” Thomas said. “I was on Facetime with my friend Raven, who just gave me the push to submit it. I had submitted it through fear, but when I read the email that I had won, all I could feel was love. I felt like this was the start of something that was going to impact lives.”

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Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.