When J Balvin found himself struggling to create music amidst his struggles with mental health, he made the difficult decision to seek help. Now, he's using 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 barriers through sound, fashion and art. After opening up publicly about his personal struggles with anxiety and depression, he’s launching OYE, a bilingual wellness app. The goal? To empower anyone in the Latinx community — and other cultures — who is struggling with mental health by providing a space to help channel their emotions into creativity.
“In my own journey, I found it hard to find my creativity while dealing with personal mental health struggles,” J Balvin, known as the app’s Chief Dream Officer, shared in a statement to TODAY. “However, after understanding and tapping into the powers of creative wellness and using my own creative vision to drive true solutions for myself, I was able to both feel better and express myself in new ways I never knew possible.”
His statement continued: “That is why I created OYE — to bring a deeper understanding of the healing powers of these creative wellness practices to the global community — for both Spanish and English speaking audiences worldwide.”
The app has been about a year in the making, OYE co-founders Mario Chamorro and Patrick Dowd told TODAY via Zoom. They officially started to build 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 amount of meaningful listening people do.
From the beginning, the team wanted to create a platform that could help people feel better across the Americas. To achieve that mission, they knew their app needed to be fully bilingual.
“We had our whole 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 has sung in Spanish for his whole career, even as he’s had a lot of pressures coming up as a global star. He always seemed true to where he was from and feels it’s very important to champion Spanish language as a global language.”
According to SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, mental health issues are on the rise for people of Latino, Hispanic, or Spanish descent between the ages of 12-49. 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 paired with poor communication from health care providers.
However, Chamorro and Dowd stressed that OYE is for everyone, not just Spanish speakers, as the app can easily be switched between language preferences.
Among OYE’s features include an emotional check-in tool with about 100 feelings to choose from — like "disinterested" to "lonely," "anxious," or "peaceful" — which will then provide the user with content tailored to one’s 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 also mindful notifications that will encourage persistence, self-love and accountability.
Hailing from Mexico, Head of Wellness Mari Serra helped build an “eclectic, inclusive group of wellness guides,” Dowd shared, which include 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 council.
As part of the app, members are also invited to become “OYE Creators” themselves and are encouraged to share how they cope and manage their own mental health.
“We believe every artist is a healer, and every healer is an artist, and we believe every human is an artist,” Chamorro said. “We are just bringing together this community of people who express how they manage their emotions to unleash their creative selves and shape their futures.”
Above all, OYE's purpose is to help the world feel better by providing easy access to a holistic range of practices from Latin America. On a global level, Dowd said, they “want to transform emotional wellness from something that’s seen as a private burden to something that is seen as a powerful resource for creating the life that you want to live.”
Chamorro added that having a resource that can curate content from mental wellness experts and be completed in either English or Spanish in an easy way to follow, “is something really powerful.”
OYE is available for download now via the Apple App Store and Google Play. The company will be providing a month-free trial in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month and World Mental Health Day on Oct. 10, followed by subscription options starting at $4.99/month.
During Hispanic Heritage Month, TODAY is sharing the community’s history, pain, joy and pride. We are highlighting Hispanic trailblazers and rising voices. TODAY will be publishing personal essays, stories, videos and specials throughout the month of September and October. For more, head here.