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Using tech for good: ‘You do it because it’s making a difference’

Moodie AppAs a manager on Atlantic Lottery’s Innovation team, Mike Sandalis spends his days using creativity, technology and a data-driven approach to solve problems and produce new products that give players a better experience.

Once the work day is over, he’s using those same abilities to make a positive difference for young people dealing with mental health challenges.

Sandalis, along with his longtime friend Richard Wilson, is the co-founder of Moodie, a mobile application that helps users track and manage their mental health in an engaging way. Using physiological data from wearable technology and user-entered information about their mood, exercise, sleep, nutrition and overall wellness, the app tracks the user’s mood and anxiety levels. It then offers real-time biofeedback and personalized cognitive behavioural therapy techniques to help them improve their mood and support healthier habits.

His own experience in innovation, combined with Wilson’s background as both an entrepreneur and a youth worker with the John Howard Society, made them the perfect pair to pursue this “passion project,” Sandalis says.

“We saw the opportunity of using tech for good,” he says. “I just said, ‘Let’s get together and grab a coffee.’ It just kind of grew from that.”

Through research and interviews with therapists, patients and other mental health experts, Sandalis and Wilson identified potential barriers and gaps in the system where they thought they could make a difference, including the long wait time that exists for young people to see a therapist. By helping to get the user thinking and talking about their experience and providing gamified exercises that they’re more likely to actually complete, the idea is that treatment will be more effective when they begin therapy sessions – and successful early treatment has been shown to bring savings for the system and improved mental health later on earlier in life.

“We realized there was a few main friction points in the process. Once we had that, it revealed a few things we thought we could fix, using our backgrounds,” Sandalis says.

After two and a half years of consultations, development and testing during the duo’s evenings and weekends, Moodie is now being used by approximately 8,000 young people around the world as part of their treatment, with about 10 per cent residing in Atlantic Canada. The app is free for youth aged 13 to 21 and a subscription fee-based adult beta version launched in July 2019 to support further improvements.

‘We just believed that it could help’

Sandalis says that after all the time and energy he and others have dedicated to Moodie, it’s gratifying to hear from users and therapists alike that the app is having a positive impact.

“You do it because it makes a difference,” he says, adding that he’s even heard from friends and other parents how the app has helped their teenagers. “We just believed that it could help and we kept not seeing other things out there, so we just decided to keep plugging away at it.”

The skills and processes Sandalis has honed working with the Innovation group and the inventive team at Atlantic Lottery’s Outpost Lab were beneficial to the development of Moodie.

“Anything that we learn here or through the practice of skills like design thinking, it definitely translates,” he says.