When J Balvin found himself struggling to create music amid his mental health struggles, he made the difficult decision to seek help. Now he uses what he learned to help others.
The Colombian singer – born José Álvaro Osorio Balvín – is one of this generation’s best-selling Latin music artists, known for breaking down barriers through sound, fashion and art. After opening up publicly about his personal struggles with anxiety and depression, he launched OYE, a bilingual wellness app. The goal? Empowering anyone in the Latinx community – and other cultures – who struggles with mental health by providing a space to help channel their emotions into creativity.
“In my own journey, I’ve struggled to find my creativity while dealing with personal mental health issues,” J Balvin, known as the app’s director of dreams, said in a statement to TODAY. ‘HUI. “However, after understanding and harnessing the powers of creative wellness and using my own creative vision to find real solutions for myself, I was able to both feel better and express myself in new ways that I never thought possible.”
His statement continued, “That’s why I created OYE – to bring a deeper understanding of the healing powers of these creative wellness practices to the global community – for Spanish and English speaking audiences around the world.”
The app took about a year to develop, OYE co-founders Mario Chamorro and Patrick Dowd told TODAY via Zoom. They officially started building the app alongside Balvin in late 2021. The name of the app – which translates to “listen” – was chosen after Chamorro and Dowd discussed how they could increase the number meaningful listening.
From the start, the team wanted to create a platform that could help people feel better across the Americas. To accomplish this mission, they knew their app had to be fully bilingual.
“We had our entire design and creation process in both languages,” Dowd said. “It’s just part of our DNA. And I think we’re also very inspired by our co-founder and Chief Dream Officer José, who’s been singing in Spanish his whole career, even though he’s been under a lot of pressure as a global star. He has always seemed loyal to his country of origin and thinks it is very important to defend the Spanish language as a global language.
According to SAMHSA’s National Survey of Drug Use and Health, mental health issues are on the rise among people of Latino, Hispanic, or Spanish descent between the ages of 12 and 49. Mental Health America notes that the challenges within these communities are only exacerbated due to a shortage of bilingual or Spanish-speaking mental health professionals, often coupled with poor communication from health care providers.
However, Chamorro and Dowd pointed out that OYE is for everyone, not just Spanish speakers, as the app can easily switch between language preferences.
Features of OYE include an emotional recording tool with around 100 feelings to choose from – such as “selfless” to “lonely”, “anxious” or “peaceful” – which will then provide the user with content tailored to his current emotional state.
There are also creative wellness videos and exercises ranging from five to 30 minutes, a personal goal setting tool, and downloadable generative art that tracks personal growth and can be shared with friends. There are also mindful notifications that will encourage perseverance, self-love, and responsibility.
Hailing from Mexico, wellness manager Mari Serra has helped create an “eclectic and inclusive group of wellness guides,” Dowd explained, which includes shamans, healers, dancers, meditation experts and yogis, among others, from different parts of Latin America. Balvin’s own therapist, Latin American psychologist Carlos López, is also on the wellness board.
As part of the app, members are also invited to become “OYE Makers” themselves and are encouraged to share how they cope with and manage their own mental health.
“We believe that every artist is a healer, and every healer is an artist, and we believe that every Human is an artist,” Chamorro said. “We’re just bringing together this community of people who are expressing how they manage their emotions to unleash their creativity and shape their future.”
Above all, OYE’s goal is to help the world feel better by providing easy access to a holistic range of Latin American practices. Globally, Dowd said, they “want to transform emotional well-being from something that’s seen as a private burden to something that’s seen as a powerful resource for creating the life you want to live.”
Chamorro added that having a resource that can curate content from mental wellness experts and be completed in English or Spanish in an easy-to-follow way, “is something really powerful.”
OYE is now available for download via the Apple App Store and Google Play. The company will offer a one-month free trial during Hispanic Heritage Month and World Mental Health Day on October 10, followed by subscription options starting at $4.99/month.
During Hispanic Heritage Month, TODAY shares the story, pain, joy and pride of the community. We spotlight Hispanic pioneers and rising voices. TODAY will be posting personal essays, stories, videos and specials throughout September and October. To find out more, visit here.
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