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Credit: Max Mester

Two Penn graduates co-founded an online mental health platform to encourage self-care through writing. 

The website, called MindTerra, offers live guided writing and journaling sessions to help users manage their mental well-being. Co-founders 2019 Graduate School of Education Toffy Charupatanapongse and 2019 School of Engineering and Applied Sciences graduate Fair Pisuttisarun, established MindTerra in response to the exacerbation of mental health challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Over the past year, the pair has grown MindTerra from 20 users to 800. The co-founders hope MindTerra will promote the idea that mental well-being doesn’t have to be luxurious, and that self-care should be an accessible, necessary activity in everyone’s lives.

“Mental health is not just talking to a therapist, it’s not having bath bombs and going to yoga retreats,” Charupatanapongse said. “It can be as simple as picking up a pen.” 

MindTerra offers three services: Writing Verandas, donation-based creative and reflective writing sessions; Wellness Writing, involving prompts designed to improve users' mental well-being; and Therapist Talks, a partnership with a professional to highlight various aspects of mental health.

Charupatanapongse and Pisuttisarun said their time at Penn fostered an entrepreneurial spirit in them, which prepared them for their work with MindTerra.

“You can’t go through Penn without getting influenced by the entrepreneurial bug,” Charuptanapongse said.

The pair hopes to channel the tools and skills they gained at Penn to provide a platform for self-care that overcomes barriers to mental healthcare, such as cost and access. 

The average therapy session costs between $75-$150 per hour, which is more expensive than MindTerra's service that range in cost from donation only to $25.

The platform grew in popularity following a collaborative event with Passion Planner, a popular journaling and productivity company. 

Camille Espiritu, marketing manager and a writing facilitator, found MindTerra through Passion Planner. She heard about MindTerra before one of their upcoming events, bought a ticket, and started working at MindTerra shortly after. 

“It’s so unique to see this kind of community from all walks of life, all different ages, different races [and] backgrounds,” she said. 

Their team is entirely composed of women of color. Although this wasn’t deliberate, Pisuttisarun said it gave the organization an opportunity to be more intentional in their mission of inclusivity.

“[MindTerra] is a place where you can truly be yourself. I know that sounds cliché but we welcome everyone,” Pisuttisarun said. 

ShanShan Guo, a writing facilitator, said MindTerra has allowed her to become a part of a new community during the pandemic.

“It opens up a new world for you just within the confines of your own house,” Guo said.

Guo loved creative writing in high school, but stopped the activity after negative feedback from an English teacher. MindTerra helped her rekindle her love for writing.

“When I hear other people sharing their stories, it definitely makes me feel braver and want to write more as well,” she said. 

The growth and health of their community is a common goal for all of the MindTerra team as they look to the future. They hope to expand their programming to run 24 hours per day, meet in-person once it’s safe, and partner with other companies to host collaborative events. 

“I hope it continues to positively affect people’s mental health in the way that only words can,” Espiritu said.