Our team has set out to tackle the pervading issue of mental health on college campuses. Most of us our familiar with the increased number of suicides across the board at universities, and the list of stressors that make the four-year journey through the early years of young adulthood as challenging as ever. The space of mental health is one that in recent years has received more media exposure, partly we imagine due to the accessibility of information allowed for by digital technology, and the concern for the issue communicated on all levels. We’re in the process of developing Sharenonymous, a mobile app that encourages honest communication among students and increases their awareness of the available on-campus resources. We look forward to watching our product evolve as we reflect on, discuss, and reinforce the value we hope to create for campuses across the country.
Our last week was spent conversing with and interviewing current students on their experiences operating on campus. We are focusing our time right now on evidentially understanding what students themselves feel and believe are the issues plaguing the state of mental health and wellness at universities. These candid thoughts and accounts from students we expect will help inform, calibrate and evolve the platform we are beginning to put together. In line with the lean start-up philosophy, each meeting so far – whether scheduled or impromptu – has been an opportunity to test our hypotheses of what we identified as the primary contributing issues when we first came into the I-Corps program.
The last full week of June carried us through campus as we continued to approach students about their general on-campus experiences, and their experiences as they relate to mental health. The interviews we conducted, 10 to be exact, were mostly with Penn students — but Drexel University, Temple University, and Claremont Mckenna College were also represented. The problems that have thus far come up in conversation are wide-ranging: acclimating to a new environment, a long wait time for psychological services, relationships/hook-up culture, trouble finding balance, lack of peer support, a lack of honest communication, severe pressure and expectations, a lack of awareness of resource or knowing which ones to use and when, and knowing what to do when one is concerned about a friend.
We met last week with more students on campus, including a student leader from Penn’s branch of the national mental health organization, Active Minds. These interviews and conversations were informative; as it led our team to begin narrowing down and prioritizing the problems we should focus on. Websites such as Ok2Talk.org, YouAreNotAlone, and Pennsive – which is Penn specific — were shared with us during one of the interviews. This served as a confirmation that increasing transparency among students, and having a safe space to decompress is a valid “need” on campus. We came into the program having identified a lack of honest communication and the fact that campus resources are decentralized as two major contributing problems, and problems that we believe the technology we have been conceptualizing can effectively combat. We are sure that what we have proposed resonates on a student level, so this week we look forward to hearing the perspectives of faculty, and personnel from psychological services to see if it’ll be best to continue moving in the same direction.
The last week has been productive, insightful, and revelatory for us. We met with therapists and the heads of Penn’s Psychological Services. From our interviews and conversations with them, we have been able to reframe our understanding of the overall problem in a more particular and targeted way. Most students who visit Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) at Penn — whether it’s because of distress, anxiety, depression, or otherwise – do so as a result of difficulties with their academic life or [romantic] relationships. As regards to academic life, which is where the case lies more often than not, students are challenged with feelings of being overwhelmed (i.e. too great a course load, difficulty balancing classes with other aspects of college life etc.). This notion of being overwhelmed is the “pain” that we are looking to relieve with our technology.
We also conversed individually with a number of the board members from Active Minds, a representative from the DMAX Mental Health Foundation, and a student leader and app developer who created a prototype for an app earlier in the year to help students’ manage their mental health. Our next steps will be creating the MVP for our technology, and continuing the conversations we’ve been having thus far. Our team has meeting’s set up next week with psychological services at neighboring universities in Philadephia, and other mental health foundations, like the Scattergood Foundation.
Since we last posted, we have moved forward in a number of ways. We interviewed the heads and therapists of St. Joseph University’s Psychological Services to further the dialogue. We also began creating our MVP; it has taken the form of a peer-peer community and support-messaging network that students can use to deal with their feelings of being overwhelmed with campus life.
Our team consulted with a representative from the Scattergood Foundation – Timothy Clement — who provided a number of suggestions for navigating our idea in a non-profit vs. a for-profit direction. From the responses we’ve received in recent weeks, it appears that foundations would be interested in funding this project. We’re gathering that what would be best for us to do is to shift Sharenonymous in a non-profit direction.
This week we have a meeting with Paul Furtaw, the associate director of Counseling Services at Drexel who led the Drexel kiosk Mental Health Risk assessment project; they are being funded by a Boston-area non-profit and Scattergood.