Users can set goals and track their progress over time through the newly launched Ohio State: Wellness app. Credit: Courtesy of Ohio State

Mental health resources and support are landing in the pockets of students after more than a year of development. 

The Ohio State: Wellness app will contain four tabs designed to support students in different ways: Explore, Support, My Wellness and Crisis. The completed app will be pushed to more than 23,000 student iPads Wednesday and will also be available on Apple Inc.’s App Store, but is not yet available for Android devices, university officials involved in the app development said. 

The app’s conception began Jan. 21, 2019, during a three-day development process at Apple’s headquarters. Six students, two Digital Flagship representatives and four university administrators represented Ohio State during the collaboration in Cupertino, California, according to previous Lantern reporting.

Liv Gjestvang, associate vice president of learning technology, said the Explore tab in the app provides blog-style content that follows the student experience throughout the semester. 

“That content is timed to help address homesickness when it first arises when students get onto campus, to help address things like stress around midterms and finals,” Gjestvang said. 

Gjestvang said the content was created with the Office of Student Life and Counseling and Consultation Services to highlight approaches to mental wellness. 

The Support tab contains more than 130 campus and community resources, but is organized based on student experiences with issues such as anxiety and depression and to help students understand when their experiences may require additional support, Gjestvang said. 

“If I’m having relationship issues, or if I’m experiencing what I think might be anxiety, then I as a user would want to go on and kind of look for that presenting concern,” Gjestvang said. “And then within that concern, the content is arranged with sort of a range of options based on whether I want to try to access some resources on my own online or whether I want to come in in person or participate in a group resource or activity.”

Alek Kundla, a second-year in computer science engineering and Undergraduate Student Government’s lead on the app development, also said this aspect of the app centers on the student experience. 

“It also follows that students generally know when they go to seek help, usually they think — in their mind at least — there’s been some sort of line that’s crossed, some change in feelings that has gotten worse than it should be, and the symptoms and descriptions of many of these concerns fall exactly in line with that,” Kundla said.

The My Wellness tab allows students to set goals based on their interests, such as spending more time outdoors or getting eight hours of sleep, and track their progress, Gjestvang said.

“This was another place where we heard from students from the very beginning that having regular interaction as opposed to kind of a ‘one-time stop in, check it out’ experience would be —  was something that they would value,” Gjestvang said.

The Crisis tab is the same as the current feature available in the Ohio State app and includes directions to resources such as suicide hotlines and text lines, Gjestvang said. The tab also includes the option to call 911 and the Ohio Sexual Violence Helpline, and uses geographic location to direct users to the nearest resources. 

Grace Buchholz, marketing and communications lead in the Office of the Chief Information Officer, said students asked for a sharing feature in the app during development meant to encourage the breakdown of mental health stigma.

“This sharing-with-the-peer idea is something that we’ve heard quite a lot from students who we’ve worked with over this time,” Buchholz said. “It’s really important for them to be able to care for the people in their lives and be able to provide that support and reduce stigma. And so throughout the app, there are places where it will allow you to quickly ask for it and share a resource with a friend.”

Buchholz said that this past fall, 20 diverse focus groups were conducted for student input, and Gjestvang said the core design elements within the app came from students. Kundla said his main role in the development was gathering student feedback. 

“As we create this, we expect that we’re going to get some things right. There’s going to be plenty of aspects of the app that will be a hit with students, and that’s certainly the feedback that we’ve gotten,” Kundla said. “But we also expect that as time goes on, we will see some parts of the app get underused, or we’ll see different elements that are clear should be added to the app for the development.”

Following the app launch, Kundla said feedback will continue to be gathered. He said getting a variety of resources into one app makes those resources more accessible to students as opposed to having multiple apps that provide different services. 

Gjestvang said she hopes to see students sharing the app with friends to reduce the stigma around seeking help for mental health issues, and Kundla said he hopes to see students using the app across campus. 

“The app is part of advancing a culture of care for your mental health and wellness, and health and wellness more generally at Ohio State, so widespread adoption across multiple different groups of students would be something we’re looking for,” Kundla said.

Correction: A quote from Liv Gjestvang previously read as using the word “sickness.” It has since been updated to “homesickness” to accurately reflect Gjestvang’s quote.