“are you ok?” is a satirical implementation of a mental health support kiosk from the 70s. The inspiration for this project came from the feelings of frustration and alienation that come from dismissive, canned responses to serious mental health issues. The bingo card above would feel a bit too familiar to anyone who’s been through depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues. People often don’t know how to provide good support and end up gaslighting, diminishing your experiences, or providing dismissive advice like “take a deep breath.”

Good mental health support requires listening, validating, and responding thoughtfully. The biggest requirement for being a good supporter is simply empathy – you don’t need to be a therapist for this. The kiosk breaks all the rules, because it

  • Doesn’t pretend to care about you or your emotions (it’s a robot…)
  • Only provides canned responses
  • The only input is a binary Y/N, you can’t open up to this thing
  • It seems to solely attempt to diagnose you and move on
  • It’s impersonal
  • It only acts logically
  • They might be in public locations, or in groups. There’s no privacy since it speaks aloud.
  • It’s dismissive, ending each action with a “we hope you are feeling better.”
  • There’s no debating it. Each “diagnosis” is authoritative.

The design of the kiosk is hostile, but very simple and “corporate.” The voice is distorted and robotic, and the CRT TV monitor is staticy and industrial, with small white text on a black screen.

Narrative and Interaction

The interaction is simple. In its idle state, the kiosk simply displays “are you ok?” with blinking options for “yes” and “no.” Answering yes will terminate the session, but answering no will kick off a series of prompts that attempt to provide mental health support.

Prompts are printed to the monitor sphere on the top of the kiosk in small white lettering, and read aloud by a robotic voice using the TV speakers. After each prompt, the user can select “yes” or “no” again to continue the interaction. Eventually, the user might end up on a prompt that is simply advice such as “Try getting more sleep” or “consider applying to graduate school” or “try chamomile tea.” Answering yes or no here will terminate the session, and display “Thank you for using this mental health support kiosk. We hope you are feeling better.”

The kiosk will reset if inactive for 15 seconds. While it’s running, the prompts are printed on my laptop so I can see what people are selecting even if I’m not within earshot.

The video below shows an example interaction, and the video at the top shows a longer series of prompts.

Photos and Display

I showed this in Gates and outside Purnell. Both times, we setup the kiosk in the middle of a walking area where we would get a fair bit of foot traffic, then sat nearby watching people interact with it. I printed a fake museum card to attach to the kiosk (see above) with a long-winded fake backstory that described it as a restored object from the 1970s.

Interestingly, demographic differences were very apparent in how people interacted with the kiosk. Outside Purnell, we had a lot more students laughing at the humor of the project, and most people engaged with the “depression” tree the most. At one point, a group of drama students went and grabbed their friends to show them the kiosk. A few parents used it! When we showed it in Gates, most people engaged primarily with the “stress” tree, and seemed more confused and frustrated by some of the prompts, but still usually ended up laughing at the end.

Most people were a bit nervous at first to answer it, and would kind of tentatively press the buttons at arms length. After the first prompt though, they’d get a bit more casual and start to actually engage fairly deeply with it. I was worried that people would be uncomfortable using it in public, but it turned out that a lot of people were very willing to engage with it either alone or with their friends. People would hang out and watch other people use it while reading the fake “artists statement” on the side, and try to explain their theories about where it came from.

The responses deeper into the tree tended to get a lot more abusive and emotionally painful to interact with. This was the “gaslighting” part of the tree, that asked users if they were “sure they were depressed,” making claims that they were “didn’t seem depressed,” or were “bringing down the vibe,” or that they were “using this kiosk to get attention.” It was interesting seeing the groups move from lighthearted responses to the more aggressive ones, since they would transition between laughter and clearly being uncomfortable. I think it was worth including that part of the tree, but it was really painful to watch random people engage with it.



The construction is simple. It’s an old television sitting on a white plinth with a pair of buttons. The electronics are a raspberry pi running processing and a TV modulator box to convert the analog video into a VHF TV signal.


This project ended up being a lot of fun to work on, especially writing the prompts and seeing people use it. The easiest parts were definitely writing the prompt code and building the plinths. Getting the code to run on a raspberry pi turned out to be a bit of a challenge, and I had a lot of issues with Processing’s gpio library on the raspi 4, and ultimately had to add a retry mechanism for it to reliably start. Setting up the TV and modulator was a bit of trial and error since there’s little documentation and knowledge about these TVs floating around, and at one point I needed to switch from UHF modulation to VHF to get a good image.

Thematically, I think the aesthetic went pretty well and didn’t take a lot of work to pull off. On the other hand, coming up with prompts turned out to be fairly difficult. I did a fair bit of research into mental health support techniques, modern therapy methods, and talked to a lot of my friends and family about their personal experiences. At some points I struggled a lot to balance between keeping it lighthearted versus putting in more emotionally painful prompts. There was a huge amount of ground I didn’t feel like I had time to cover appropriately that I left out.

I think if I did it again I would spend a bit more time planning the prompts themselves from an interactivity point of view: when I showed the piece, most people didn’t break past the first couple levels of input. I’d guess that at least 3/4 of the tree wasn’t explored by anyone using it in passing. I think setting it up more permanently or in a gallery would invite longer interactions, but people using it between classes or with their friends meant that a lot of the users didn’t want to spend much time diving into it.

A few people at the critique noted that logging responses would be cool, and I totally agree. It would have been really interesting to set this up for a couple days in different spots on campus and see how people interact with it.


/* Are You Ok?
 * Tom Scherlis 2021
 * Are you ok is a satirical mental health support kiosk developed
 * for the course Electronic Logics && Creative Practice at 
 * Carnegie Mellon University. This software was written in Processing
 * and is intended to run on a raspberry pi.
 * requirements: the command 'espeak' should be installed on the system.
 * pin mappings are below. LEDs should be active high, and buttons should
 * be active low.
 * If running on hardware, set hardware = true, otherwise the system will
 * not initialize gpios and will run in a windowed mode using keyboard
 * y/n inputs.
 * Reminders: Disable screen blanking if you intend to run this kiosk for
 * more than a couple minutes at a time.


// Pin mappings:
int noLED = 27;
int yesLED = 22;
int noButton = 4;
int yesButton = 5;

boolean hardware = true;

// Prompts form a binary tree.
class Prompt {
  String value;
  Prompt yes;
  Prompt no;

  Prompt(String value, Prompt yes, Prompt no) {
    this.value = value;
    this.yes = yes; = no;

PFont f;

boolean speak;          // This loop we should speak and log the prompt. (Prompt changed)
int promptStartTime;    // The time that the current prompt started
int lastPromptEndTime;  // The time that the current prompt ended and user input started
Prompt activePrompt;    // Current active Prompt
Prompt rootPrompt;      // Root Prompt ("are you ok?")

void setup() {
  size(640, 480);  // use "size" for windowed mode, "fullscreen" for fullscreen mode on the pi.
  // Create the font
  f = createFont("courier", 20);
  textAlign(CENTER, CENTER);
  // Sometimes gpio configuration fails on the first try, so loop.
  boolean configured = false;
  int tries = 0;
  while (!configured && tries < 50 && hardware) {
    try {
      GPIO.pinMode(noLED, GPIO.OUTPUT);
      GPIO.pinMode(yesLED, GPIO.OUTPUT);
      GPIO.pinMode(noButton, GPIO.INPUT_PULLUP);
      GPIO.pinMode(yesButton, GPIO.INPUT_PULLUP);
      configured = true;
    catch(Exception e) {
  if (configured || !hardware) {
    print("Successfully configured GPIO!");
  } else {
    print("Failed to configure GPIO!");
  // Declare the prompt tree
  promptStartTime = millis();
  rootPrompt = new Prompt("are you ok?",
    new Prompt("have you been feeling depressed recently?", 
      new Prompt("I'm sorry to hear that.\nHave you been getting enough sleep?",
        new Prompt("Have you been exercising regularly?",
          new Prompt("Have you been eating a nutritionally rich diet?\nStudies show that processed foods\nhave a negative effect on mental health!",
            new Prompt("Try high-fiving a nearbye friend!\n... ... ... ... ... ... .... \nAre you still feeling depressed?",
              new Prompt("Have you experienced the death of\na family member recently?",
                new Prompt("I'm sorry for your loss.", null, null),
                new Prompt("Are you sure you are depressed?",
                  new Prompt("A negative attitude does not help.\nYou're really bringing down the vibe.",
                    new Prompt("Have you considered that many people\nhave it worse than you?",
                      new Prompt("Hmm.. Consider reaching out to\nCounseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)™\nor an online therapy resource such as TalkSpace™.\nWith Talkspace™’s Guaranteed Response Time™, you’ll\nknow when to expect your daily response from\nyour counselor, allowing you to get the most\nout of your counseling.", null, null), 
                      new Prompt("That's awfully selfish of you.", null, null)
                    new Prompt("You don't seem very depressed.\nAre you using this kiosk to get attention?",
                      new Prompt("I hope you find the help you need.", null, null),
                      new Prompt("Hmm.. Consider reaching out to\nCounseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)™\nor an online therapy resource such as TalkSpace™.\nWith Talkspace™’s Guaranteed Response Time™, you’ll\nknow when to expect your daily response from\nyour counselor, allowing you to get the most\nout of your counseling.", null, null) 
            new Prompt("Try eating nutritionally rich meals, like those\nsold at Nourish™ in the Cohen University Center,\nor by using a service such as HelloFresh™!", null, null)
          new Prompt("Try exercising.", null, null)
        new Prompt("Try getting more sleep.", null, null)),
      new Prompt("Are you feeling anxious?",
        new Prompt("Try taking a deep breath!\n... ... ... ... ... ...\nAre you still feeling anxious?",
          new Prompt("Do you think your anxiety is due to an\nimpending climate disaster?",
            new Prompt("Try taking pleasure in the little things\nand avoid thinking about the future.\nGreen energy companies such as Exxonmobil™\nhave their best scientists on it!", null, null),
            new Prompt("Do you think your anxiety is due to an\nongoing global pandemic?",
              new Prompt("Remember that many people lost loved ones,\ncareers, and much more. Instead of\ncomplaining, be grateful that you are in such\na good position yourself.", null, null),
              new Prompt("Are you worried about your future?",
                new Prompt("Are you struggling to find a job?", 
                  new Prompt("Did you decide to enter a field without\na stable job market?",
                    new Prompt("Consider attending an MBA program\nsuch as Carnegie Mellon University's\nTepper School of Business™!", null, null),
                    new Prompt("Consider contacting the Career and Professional\nDevelopment Center for help updating your résumé!", null, null)
                  new Prompt("Are you struggling to find a job that you like?",
                    new Prompt("Are you worried that a career in your field\nwon't be emotionally fulfilling",
                      new Prompt("Does you career pay well?",
                        new Prompt("I don't see what you have to complain about then.", null, null),
                        new Prompt("Neither do I.\nMany people do not like their jobs.\n", null, null)
                      new Prompt("Have you considered graduate school?\nYou wouldn't want to waste your potential...", 
                        new Prompt("Do it.", null, null),
                        new Prompt("Consider disconnecting from the world\nto join a commune!", null, null)
                    new Prompt("That's good. Things could be much worse.\nAre you sure you are worried?",
                      new Prompt("I'm sorry to hear that. Please reach out if there's\nanything I can do to help.", null, null), 
                new Prompt("Congrats!",
                  new Prompt("No? You should feel lucky.\n78% of users are worried about their future.\nI'm worried about my future.", null, null)
        new Prompt("Are you feeling stressed?",
          new Prompt("Are you stressed due to coursework or an\nupcoming exam?",
            new Prompt("Consider transferring into an easier\nprogram or taking on less work.\nSome students simply aren't cut out for the\ndifficulty of Carnegie Mellon, especially\nComputer Science or Engineering!\nIs transferring an option for you?",
              new Prompt("That sounds like a good solution.", null, null),
              new Prompt("Try reaching out to your professors for assistance.\nYour mental health is more important than\nacademics. Your professors should understand\nthat your mental health takes priority\nover your career success.\nAdditionally, avoid drugs and alcohol.", null, null)
            new Prompt("Are you stressed due to a relationship\n or a friend?",
              new Prompt("Try cutting out the harmful or sad people\nin your life. That worked well for me.", null, null),
              new Prompt("Have you tried chamomile tea?\n",
                new Prompt("Have you tried meditation?",
                  new Prompt("Try meditating now\n... ... ...\n... ... ...\nAre you still feeling stressed?",
                    new Prompt("Consider downloading Headspace™\nto track and optimize your meditation routine.\n Headspace™ lets you learn to manage feelings and\nthoughts with the lifelong skill of everyday\nmindfulness, any time of the day.", null, null),
                new Prompt("Try chamomile tea!\nIt is very calming.", null, null)
          new Prompt("Do you have persistent existential dread?",
            new Prompt("Gates 3rd floor is an\nexistential-dread-free zone. Consider studying\nsomewhere else.\nPlease reach out to me if you need anything.", null, null),
            new Prompt("Are you sure you are not ok?",
              new Prompt("Most Carnegie Mellon University Students\nare ok.\n Maybe you are overthinking things.", null, null),
//new Prompt(Is capitalism not working for you?", 
//  new Prompt("Consider working harder.\nStop complaining and adopt a 'Winner Attitude.'\nRand Paul ( and Turning\nPoint USA™ both have excellent\nresources for learning about the benefits\nof capitalism and why socialism is\na failed ideology.", null, null),
//  null
//  ),
  activePrompt = rootPrompt;
  speak = true;

void draw() {
  boolean pressingYes = (keyPressed && key == 'y') || (hardware && GPIO.digitalRead(yesButton) == GPIO.LOW);
  boolean pressingNo = (keyPressed && key == 'n') || (hardware && GPIO.digitalRead(noButton) == GPIO.LOW);
  int now = millis();
  String promptString = "";
  if (activePrompt != null) {
    promptString = activePrompt.value;
  } else {
    promptString = "Thank you for using this mental health\nsupport kiosk!\nWe hope you are feeling better.";
  if (speak) {
    //launch("/bin/bash", "-c", "'", "espeak", "\"" + promptString + "\"", "-p", "0", "'");
    //try {
    //  Runtime.getRuntime().exec(new String[]{"/bin/bash", "-c", "'", "espeak", "\"" + promptString + "\"", "-p", "0", "'"});
    //catch(Exception e) {
    //  print("Failed to use espeak!\n");
    ProcessBuilder pb = new ProcessBuilder("espeak", "-p", "0", "\"" + promptString + "\"");
    try {
    } catch(Exception e) {
    //print("\n\n/bin/bash", "-c", "'", "espeak", "\"" + promptString + "\"", "-p", "0", "'");
    speak = false;
  boolean[] questionStatus = drawTextScrollQuestion(promptString, now - promptStartTime, 1000, 50, activePrompt != null); //5 for testing, otherwise 50.
  //drawTextScrollQuestion("Have you been feeling depressed recently?", now - START, 3000);
  boolean promptDone = questionStatus[0];
  boolean lightsOn = questionStatus[1];
  if (!promptDone) {
    lastPromptEndTime = millis();
  if (millis() - lastPromptEndTime > 15000 && activePrompt != rootPrompt) {
    activePrompt = rootPrompt;
    speak = true;
    promptStartTime = millis();
    print(" reset\n-----------------------");
  if (activePrompt == null && promptDone && millis() - lastPromptEndTime > 2000) {
    activePrompt = rootPrompt;
    speak = true;
    promptStartTime = millis();
    print(" end\n-------------------------");

  if (activePrompt != null && promptDone && pressingYes) {
    activePrompt = activePrompt.yes;
    speak = true;
    promptStartTime = millis();
    print(" yes");
  if (activePrompt != null && promptDone && pressingNo) {
    activePrompt =;
    speak = true;
    promptStartTime = millis();
    print(" no");
  if (hardware) {
    if (lightsOn) {
      GPIO.digitalWrite(noLED, true);
      GPIO.digitalWrite(yesLED, true);
    } else {
      GPIO.digitalWrite(noLED, false);
      GPIO.digitalWrite(yesLED, false);

// Returns: {done prompting, blink state for buttons}
boolean[] drawTextScrollQuestion(String text, int elapsed, int duration, int minDelay, boolean getInput) {
  boolean[] res = {false, false};
  if (elapsed < 0) {
    return res;
  int nchars = text.length();
  int nToDraw = min(nchars * elapsed / max(duration, nchars * minDelay), nchars);
  String prompt_so_far = text.substring(0, nToDraw);
  String todraw = prompt_so_far;
  if (nchars == nToDraw) {
    res[0] = true;
    if (((elapsed - duration) / 1000) % 2 == 1 && getInput) {
      text("NO                      YES", width/2, height*5/6);
      res[1] = true;
  text(todraw, width/2, height/3);
  return res;