Two San Antonio entrepreneurs have launched an interactive mental health app and website that offers users a space to be honest about their mental health with family and friends.
Called WeTree, the subscription-based platform is a “safe space to share your true self and support your inner circle, in less than 60 seconds a day,” according to the website.
Like a social media site, WeTree allows users to connect with people of their choosing. But instead of posting photos or status updates, users quickly assess their wellbeing, then check in with their “trusted network.”
The result, say co-creators Lorenzo Gomez III and Steve Cunningham, is that people are more honest about their mental health and create deeper connections. Users reported more positive emotions after interacting through the app, the founders say.
“What we discovered is, you’re way more likely to click a button that says, ‘I’m not doing well’ than to tell someone ‘I’m not doing well,’” said Gomez. The app helps to bridge that gap.
In just two months, Gomez said the website has racked up over 5,000 subscribers just through word of mouth in San Antonio. On May 16, the mobile app will launch for Apple and Android smartphones and tablets.
WeTree has gained the attention of the San Antonio Independent School District’s CAST Schools and Trinity University, which are buying bulk subscriptions and holding focus groups, offering students a safe space to check in on each other.
“The reason we jumped at the opportunity to provide this for our students as a pilot was because, especially coming out of COVID, we need to strengthen our ties, especially with those that are closest to us,” said Luis Martinez, director of the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship at Trinity.
The app assesses users on six elements of well-being, based on the positive psychology theory developed by Martin Seligman, director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, author and former president of the American Psychological Association.
The questions make up what Gomez and Cunningham call the “mental health minute,” asking users to rate on a scale of 1-5 their feelings of positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, accomplishment and health each day. Two open-ended questions ask users what they’re grateful for and what they need help with for the day.
Gomez and Cunningham say it should take users just 30 seconds to click where they stand on the six questions, then another 30 seconds to check in with their network.
When users’ connections answer questions low on the scale, they’re shown in red, meaning the person may need support, while green means they are doing good. From there, the hope is that people will check in on each other off the app, Gomez said.
The idea is to get people involved with their community and to be there for their well-being, said Gomez, whose interest in helping others blossomed after positive reviews from the community to “Tafolla Toro,” in which he wrote about his middle school struggles with fear, anxiety and hopelessness.
Steve Cunningham, CEO and founder of Readitfor.me, a company that summarizes business books, was a friend of Gomez. After relocating from Canada to San Antonio and embarking on his own mental health journey, he came across “Flourish” by Seligman.
Cunningham and Gomez then came up with the idea of creating the assessment based on the research behind positive psychology.
Gomez said with WeTree, he and Cunningham want to help people feel safe, while at the same time, not feel like a burden to their friends and family in sharing how they’re feeling.
“There was a really shocking stat that we came across,” said Gomez. “If you just reach out to someone eight times throughout a 12 month period, you can cut the likelihood of them committing suicide by 50%.”
That’s not even having a conversation with them, he said. “That’s just pinging them: ‘Hey, how are you doing? I was thinking about you.’ The bar is so low.”
Other mental health-focused apps in the market focus on solo meditation, or aim to connect people with a professional therapist.
Gomez said WeTree is the only app that encourages completing a daily assessment and sharing it with someone else. His dream is to implement the app in thousands of schools to encourage students to help other students, and in workplaces, to help young adults help other young adults.
The name of the app comes from Bible verse, Psalms 1:3, Gomez said: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”
“We feel so strongly that mental health is not a solo sport,” Gomez said. “You need community.”
He blames the isolation of the coronavirus pandemic on the mental health pandemic now gaining steam.
“Social media actually created another version of social isolation,” Gomez said. “What we’re trying to do is reverse social isolation.”
Gomez is proud that the idea for WeTree was born in San Antonio: “We are a city that is relationship-based, and I think it’s one of our superpowers.”