Kilo: the app helping men to measure their mental health

Amanda Bender saw some of her guy friends suffering due to social pressure to "man up" and push away their feelings. So, she's creating an app to help users strengthen their emotional awareness.

  • ChallengeMany of Amanda’s guy friends had spent their whole lives being told that being "emotional" is a sign of weakness. Consequently, some of them struggled to respect and honour their own feelings.
  • SolutionAmanda designed a product to help: Kilo, a daily check-in app for logging moods and noticing emotional patterns. To validate her idea, she created a typeform and shared it with men in the tech community.
  • ResultOver 80 people have registered to beta test Kilo. Their feedback is helping create a powerful tool for healing.

Content note: mentions of suicide, burnout, panic attacks and depression.

One day, Matt Helt turned to his boss and said, “I need to leave right now, or I am going to hurt someone.” He called his wife and told her to meet him at the hospital. He was having a breakdown. 

Matt wasn't a violent guy. But he hadn't felt like himself in years. Consumed by anxiety, he had withdrawn from his relationships and started drinking heavily.  He developed rituals to keep the pressure from overwhelming him: turning the door handles a specific amount of times, switching the shower off in a certain way… But the relief was always temporary. And when the panic kicked in, it felt like he was dying of a heart attack. Every time.

Matt got the medication and support he needed. Over time, he rediscovered the joy he once took in his career, his relationship, and his life.

But how could Matt have reached such a dark place before seeking help? And why do so many people, guys especially, struggle to cope with the weight of their emotions? To even notice how bad they are feeling? That's the question that his friend Amanda Bender, a neuroscientist turned “tech-hippie,” kept turning over in her mind. 

Matt was only one of Amanda's close male friends who faced intense bouts of mental illness. Society is structured around gender roles that assign “emotions” to the realm of femininity, and “rationality” to the realm of masculinity. This is, obviously, limiting for people of all genders. 

After a lifetime of conditioning, many men are so accustomed to pushing their feelings away that they can no longer really tell what they're feeling. A lack of emotional awareness often leads to low levels of life satisfaction, which is far more dangerous than it sounds. According to the Mental Health Foundation, men are three times as likely as women to take their own lives. 

Amanda's question was simple. How, practically, can a man who struggles with toxic masculinity begin to re-learn how to engage with his feelings?

Building self-awareness in 1 minute per day 

In 2018, Amanda hit upon an idea to help men like Matt take the first small steps to better emotional awareness. She was working on a period tracking app, and realized that some of the most beneficial data wasn't about the period itself. The users benefited a lot from tracking their moods, their relationships, their energy levels, their stress levels. In fact, therapists often recommend mood-tracking to improve symptoms of depression. 

“It's very powerful to stop and reflect on oneself. I thought: let's have a guy check in every day on how he's feeling for 30 seconds to one minute. ”

Amanda Bender

So Amanda decided to build an app for users to quickly touch base with their emotional lives every day. There would be nine qualitative markers that would appear on a chart — a quantitative visualization of how they'd been feeling lately. It would allow users to track their emotions, notice patterns, and understand if something needed to change. 

A mental health tool in "masculine" packaging        

Kilo doesn't look like a mental health app. The visual vocabulary of “mental health” tends to overlap with tropes of femininity. Flowers, powdery blues, photographs of women with their eyes shut. A lot of people don't make decisions based on that, of course. But many of our decisions around media consumption aren't conscious. If guys affected by toxic masculinity aren't questioning their first impressions, it might be easy for them to think, “This was made for someone else.” 

So Amanda went for a different look. Kilo is sleek and monotone. If you were going only on the  aesthetic, you might guess that Kilo was a progress tracking app for weightlifters. 

“There's something really cool about dark mode. I wanted to make the app feel futuristic, different from the mental health apps out there in pinks, purples, and blues. ”

Amanda Bender

The app was ready to be tested. To find willing users, Amanda created an onboarding typeform, and shared it with friends, co-workers, and online tech communities. It was essential that this survey kept Kilo's signature look. Making Kilo ultra sleek was one of her core strategies to persuade men affected by toxic masculinity that mental health check-ins were for them too.

“Part of removing the barriers to entry is making something engaging to look at. It increases the likelihood of a man wanting to be part of Kilo. That includes filling out the form. With Typeform, I thought: this is a great way to interact with customers. A personalized survey that can be branded with Kilo's voice.”

Amanda Bender

Check out Amanda's typeform to see what we're talking about. (Don't worry, you won't accidentally sign up for Kilo.) 

Amanda uses email notifications, so she knows every time a man answers her typeform. She also integrated it with Google Sheets, so that every participant's data automatically pops into an online database. Over 80 men have signed up to trial Kilo's Beta version, and Amanda is interviewing them one by one to gain their insights. In her words: 

“It's just one day at a time, one customer interview at a time. It's actively listening. It's being empathetic to what men want from this app. ”

Amanda Bender

Asking questions, easy and difficult  

Amanda's typeform includes a couple of rating questions that ask users to score their current mental health. When they start using Kilo, this data is the first plot point on the graph  — the point from which they can start to measure progress.

Amanda also asks one open-ended question: Why do you want to be a better [hu]man? The results showed a real hunger for emotional growth. 

“I want to feel enough. To be a better father and a spouse.”

“I have found others have better experiences with me if I've felt healthy and motivated, so my primary motivation is serving friends and my community. ”

“I want to be able to bring more energy and passion back to my work.”

Kilo is still in beta, but the response so far makes it clear: Many men who aren’t in touch with their feelings, would like to be. 

A baby step towards liberation   

Amanda hopes that Kilo will become an entry point for men who want to work on their mental health, but don't know where to start. 

Perhaps a user is feeling depressed, but he's socialized to consider therapy as something that other people do. Too extreme, too expensive. He's not going to leap into booking a first session. But if he notices from data visualization that he's been feeling low for months on end, then therapy becomes a solution to a visible problem. 

“Kilo aims to help men build a strong foundation for their mental health: I expect that men will graduate from this app. Hopefully, they'll become experts in their own mental health, and won’t need it anymore. But if life bumps them off track, they might come back to it in the future.”

Amanda Bender

Imagine what this world would look like if Kilo was just the beginning, and men (as well as women) were empowered to get proactive about their own mental health. 

Ultimately, her vision for this sleek data tracking app is a tender one. 

“If more people can first love themselves and have good mental health, then that will spread. At the core of Kilo is helping people first love themselves more, and then love other people more. We can slowly heal ourselves and create a better world. ”

Amanda Bender

The beta version of Kilo is now available on the App store, an android version is coming soon.

Next steps:

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