There has been a spike in the need for mental health services during the pandemic. These apps offer easy-to-access solutions.
College campuses have seen an influx of students struggling with mental health disorders since the inception of the coronavirus, with as much as 80% indicating in a recent Healthy Minds survey that pandemic had “negatively affected” them. The Healthy Minds Study provides an in-depth report regarding mental health issues at colleges, and the report also found depression, anxiety, and eating disorders are especially common. However, there are a few university personnel, including students, who’ve decided to go something about it by creating go-to apps.
Founder and CEO of Grit Digital Health and the YOU at College platform, Joe Conrad, believes there needs to be more digital platforms out there to make resources more accessible. “There definitely is a mental health crisis; campuses can’t keep up with the demand of their students,” he said. “I think innovation and digital support, has to be part of the solution.”
In 2016, Conrad was approached by Colorado State University (CSU) after they had witnessed a spike in on-campus suicides. CSU and Grit Digital Health worked together to develop solution prototypes and asked students for feedback.
“There are three parts to the platform – succeed, thrive and matter – but most of the resources being accessed are in ‘thrive,’ for mental and behavioral health,” Conrad explained. Plans to launch in the West Coast during the early stages of the pandemic was stunted by California’s lockdown. However, the students who did try it out “responded positively,” he added.
Conrad continued, “The feedback was great. We got 50% of the student population at Long Beach. That’s 17,000 students who created accounts on the new platform within the first eight weeks of that launch. We really put students at the center of the experience and designed it just for them. We published a lot of COVID content – it ranged from mental health to physical distancing, loneliness and remote learning.”
Students at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Alice Kim, Meagan Jenkins, and Tyler Huang also noticed a huge gap in the communication between students and on-campus counseling services being offered and knew apps were the way to go. The three are on the Student Counseling Services Student Advisory Board and got in touch with Student Counseling Services Director Dr. Angela Stowe, which led to the development of the B. Well app now available to all UAB students and staff.
“Everything was unprecedented, and no one really knew how the isolation would affect us,” Kim said. “I saw that there was a need for more mental health support. I could sense that a lot of students were struggling with quarantine and isolation. It was taking a huge toll on their mental health.”
“Numerous focus group discussions across campus occurred, to get input about features students wanted, and that is what informed the features that are now part of the app,” Stowe added. “There are future developments already in progress, including enhancing notifications and providing in-app access to relaxation video and audio exercises, yoga and mindfulness exercises.”
“Taking the time to take care of yourself is really important,” Jenkins said. “And so that’s what I mostly use the app for.”
Dartmouth graduate Sanat Mohapatra, founder of Unmasked, has a similar story. He said of his creation, “I noticed that a lot of students that used anonymous forums at Dartmouth weren’t really interested in traditional mental health resources. I reached out to a lot of them to see if I could help them in any way. Over the years at Dartmouth, I saw that a lot of students were struggling with mental health issues but didn’t talk openly about their struggles just out of fear of judgment or discomfort.” Unmasked, like some of the other apps, allows students to talk openly and seek professional mental health services.
“This app is created by students for students,” Mira Ram, a Dartmouth student studying computer science, said.
“Unmasked is now at 45 college campuses, with plans to expand it to more,” Mohapatra added.