Graduate student develops tool to identify signs of mental illness


December 12, 2016

WSU graduate student Johnna Crawford (left) developed a software program to help identify signs of mental illness. She fine-tuned her business model using the Shocker Innovation Corps program at WSU, spearheaded by Sherry Gegen (right).Johnna Crawford, a Wichita State University graduate student, has developed an expressive writing software system called Professors of PEACE that serves as an emotional therapy to analyze and provide suggestions on how to improve mental health. 

According to a survey conducted by the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors, more than 35 percent of college students experience some level of depression.

Crawford, who has substituted for high school English classes and taught at a collegiate level, began to notice there was a story behind the words her students were writing. There were signs of what mental and emotional states they were in.

She began to study research published by professors and doctors from all over the world on word analysis and how a student’s writing can provide insight into underlying mental and emotional concerns. 

“I began to understand how imperative early intervention was when my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD three years ago,” Crawford said.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, ADHD affects nearly 6.4 million people worldwide. Early intervention is key in managing and limiting the symptoms of mental health related conditions. However, with a lack of resources to identify the signs and the stigma surrounding mental health, many people face these tribulations with little guidance and assistance.

Professors of PEACE seeks to provide personal enlightenment and creative expression in order to help users understand and take control of their mental health.  

“We believe and profess that peace is still possible in society, despite the volatile climate,” says Crawford.

Taking advantage of online software and BrainStorm Books, the user types text into the system, and as they do, their writing is analyzed, unlocking underlying themes in the text. The analysis is based on the specified program chosen by the user or facilitator and provides the means for discovering underlying issues and intervening early if a condition is identified. The analysis covers a range of topics including relationships, anger, adolescents and addiction.

A pilot program of the software will begin next year at Valley Hope, a substance-abuse and recovery center in Wichita, to assist those suffering from addiction and empower them to reclaim control of their lives. As the system develops it will become available to more care facilities that assist with a wide spectrum of mental states.

Crawford was recently recognized for her efforts at the 2016 Innovation Awards at Wichita State.

She completed the Shocker Innovation Corps program for Professors of PEACE. Shocker Innovation Corps, which is run by WSU Ventures, provides seed funding, customer validation training and experience, mentoring, networking and intellectual property consultation for STEM-related technologies.

“As an English student doing research, I had some ideas that would not have been developed into a technology or product without the WSU Ventures opportunity,” said Crawford. “My summer going through the Shocker I-Corps taught me the importance of market research. It was a great experience to understand how different industries can use my programs in various ways to fit their own needs.”

Students interested in the next round of Shocker Innovation Corps can fill out the application at www.wsuventures.org/icorps. The final day for application is Friday Jan. 6. The next round will begin on Friday Jan. 13,.

Contact: Tracee Friess, director of communication, research and technology transfer, tracee.friess@wichita.edu or 316-978-5597.