- Challenge: Many 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.
- Solution: Amanda 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.
- Result: Over 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 Consumed by anxiety, he had withdrawn from his relationships and started drinking heavily.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.
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.
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.
Check out Amanda's typeform to see what we're talking about. (Don't worry, you won't accidentally sign up for Kilo. If you want to though, the live version is here.)
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:
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.
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.
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.
The beta version of Kilo is now available on the App store, an android version is coming soon. To request access and become part of the project, check out its website.
Learn more about how Amanda designed Kilo's onboarding typeform.
Looking for feedback on your app idea? Get started with a feedback template.
Are you or a friend struggling with mental health? Read a personal account with some thoughts that might help.