SAN FRANCISCO — Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, recent surveys found a broad worsening of mental health indicators among college students. Now students are facing new, complex challenges such as adapting to distance learning, isolation from peers, and concerns about family, health, and financial security.
Two leading groups specializing in evidence-based technology to support youth well-being have teamed up to help students cope with these challenges and combat isolation, filling the gap widened by COVID-19.
Today, Hopelab and Grit Digital Health released Nod, a new, free app that helps college students connect during this time of crisis. Nod is an app that uses evidence-based strategies designed to improve student resilience. It provides social connection tips and tools that help students maintain meaningful connection while staying safe and adhering to public health directives.
Nod was originally developed to help college students form and maintain meaningful social connections and combat loneliness on campus. Hopelab and Grit Digital Health pivoted quickly to make Nod available to respond to the new #StayHome reality. Pilot research on Nod showed reductions in loneliness and depression symptoms among the most vulnerable students. This research was conducted at the University of Oregon in Fall 2019 with first-year students, and study results were accepted for presentation at the Association for Psychological Science Annual Convention.
Hopelab and Grit Digital Health adapted Nod to address the social connection crisis brought about by COVID-19 and are committed to sharing it for free with college students around the country during this time of unprecedented need. The Nod app uses evidence-based practices including positive psychology skills, cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing, and mindfulness-based self-compassion to help support young adults in developing social connection skills and emotional resilience. For example, one Nod prompt focuses on the benefits of showing gratitude:
Be free with your thanks. Thank someone for turning you on to something new. It’s flattering to find out someone followed your advice. Give a virtual shout out of gratitude to whoever tipped you off to a cool book, tv show, idea, or person.
“I can’t believe I didn’t listen to my best friend and watch RuPaul’s Drag Race earlier,” said Christopher Lloyd Chang, a college student who tested the new prompts prior to launch. “I didn’t think I would be into it, but now I find myself thanking him every time a new season comes out. Every week since quarantine, we’ve been recapping over the phone together after new episodes release. After trying Nod, I’ve become more aware of how gratitude impacts the people I love. With all of this time on my hands, it makes sense for me to let them know how much they mean to me.”
Loneliness is a widespread and significant problem impacting the mental health and success of college students in the U.S. According to recent surveys, 79% of GenZ youth (18-22) are lonely. These survey data, compared with data from previous years, show dramatic increases in college students reporting moderate and severe depression, attempting suicide, and leaving college due to mental health issues. Social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an urgent need to address the compounded and acute social isolation and disconnection felt by young people. Nod helps students tackle these challenges with an intervention co-created with young adults, and driven by evidence.
“Social connection is a powerful driver of psychological resilience and mental wellbeing. Our early evaluation with students shows that Nod can buffer the students who are most vulnerable against negative mental health outcomes in their first year of college,” said Danielle Ramo, PhD, Senior Director of Research at Hopelab. “In the absence of support, coronavirus could have a grave impact on college students’ mental health. Nod can support students by helping them maintain and build social ties, even during the pandemic.”
“Loneliness was a huge issue before this pandemic hit, and now students are more isolated than ever,” said Grit Digital Health Founder and CEO Joe Conrad. “Our new version of the Nod app and campaign will remind students that social distancing can still be very social and this is the perfect time to connect with old and new friends in whole new ways.”
Nod is available for free and can be downloaded in the Apple and Google Play stores. Students are encouraged to share their experience with Nod by tagging relevant social media posts with #YouAreNodAlone.
- Lonely college student: Shutterstock