Vanderbilt promotes mental health support through new app WellTrack

Students can access app for free on their phones beginning this year

Spring at Vanderbilt. Flower blossom, taken on Friday, March 16, 2018. (Photo by Claire Barnett)

Students now have free access to WellTrack, a self-help app that provides users mental health support and tools on their personal devices.

Vanderbilt entered into a contract with WellTrack beginning this academic year, allowing students to download and use the app for free using their VUnet ID.

We want students to be active in working on their own wellbeing, and we also want them to be an active participant in their care when they do need that care,” said Associate Dean of Students G.L Black, who oversees the Vanderbilt’s Office of Student Care Coordination (OSCC), the Center for Student Wellbeing, and the University Counseling Center. “I think WellTrack kind of fit in that structure in terms of having something that students can do on their own to be proactive or learn more.”

The service is marketed as interactive self-care, largely geared towards students of higher education. A number of other universities, such as Boston College and Georgia State University, have contracted with WellTrack. Features on the app include tools and courses that employ Cognitive Behavior Therapy to help users address mental health issues, the WellTrack website says.

Vanderbilt contracted with the service for this school year as a part of the Student Care Network initiative that unrolled out this past July, Black said. The school’s use of WellTrack began with a pilot period period last year.

“Students felt like it would make a difference in their mental health,” Student Care Manager in the OSCC Lisa Clapper said. “The majority of students who did use the pilot felt like it did slightly improve their ability to manage their mental health.”

The app was brought in to supplement the on-campus services previously provided by organizations such as the OSCC, the University Counseling Center, and the Center for Student Wellbeing, Clapper said.

“I think the main goal is just continuing to expand the different opportunities that we have for students to engage with different types of health and wellness resources because one type of service doesn’t necessary help all people,” Black said. “With the whole Student Care Network approach, we’re always trying to find out different modalities that may work for different students.”

One particular advantage of the app is providing an intermediate step for students who may not want in an in-person appointment but are still interested in mental health support.

“[We’re] looking at, what else students can be using in between appointments, before they see somebody, maybe they’re not ready to quite see somebody, either at the Counseling Center or the Center for Student Wellbeing,” she said. “This is a way that they can start learning about some of these techniques and also tracking their moods and things like that. So really recommend it as a first step to start some of that self-awareness.”

The school also recognizes that appointments with counselors on campus and other in-person resources can take a lot of time for students, so this may encourage students to seek help without committing a large portion of their day, Clapper said. The app itself, however, like many self-initiated resources, still requires students to devote time to using it most effectively, which may provide a barrier to usage, Black said.

“Our students are very busy and sometimes the thought of scheduling one more thing can be overwhelming,” Director of the Center for Student Wellbeing Rachel Eskridge said. “WellTrack is a great resource for students to be able to utilize on their own time and at their own pace. It does require effort and commitment on the part of the student, but as they continue to utilize the tool consistently, they will hopefully see the benefits and be motivated to continue using the app.”

Some of the app’s features include a Wellness Assessment that provides different tips and recommendations to users based on their answers, and a mood indicator that tracks changes and trends in the user’s mood. This mood tracking feature provides self-identified data that can help students learn which activities promote different moods, Clapper said.

WellTrack particularly appealed to the OSCC for its integration capabilities. Vanderbilt-specific services are linked with the app, so when it provides users with suggestions and tips, it can refer them to specific resources on campus, Clapper said. Further, students that do see a mental health professional on-campus can invite their counselor to see their information on the app. This supplements and complements student therapy, she said.

Other features on the app encourage continued practice other healthy habits that the Center for Student Wellbeing teaches, such as meditating and scheduling enjoyable activities, Eskridge said.

Moving forward, the OSCC will start promoting the app more, as up until now, the emphasis has been on the larger changes in the Student Care Network changes, such as the creation of the OSCC, Black said. Also, the OSCC will monitor the app’s use on campus through anonymous datametrics to track its success on campus, Clapper said.

“We’re still in the infant stages right now, so we’re still looking at what that assessment will look like,” Clapper said. “If we’re putting in the effort to offer this to students, we do our due diligence to make sure that it actually is a benefit and that students are using it and that it’s helping.”

The various tools on the platform can accommodate a wide-range of student needs. Even students who are not necessarily struggling could benefit from some of the app’s services in order to be more prepared when mental health challenges do arise, Clapper said.

“We want students to view improving and maintaining their mental health as a priority,” Eskridge said. “Often, individuals don’t take steps to improve their mental health until something goes wrong. But, we encourage students to make mental health an ongoing priority, even when things are going well.”

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