A new app created at UAB recently hit the App Store and Google Play. B Well helps students easily access resources on mobile devices and build a self-care plan that encourages healthy habits.
Self-care plans in the B Well app are tailored to each student and focus on good habits in sleep, movement, nutrition, routine and resiliency; users can create private habit checklists and wellness journals to monitor their health journey. Plus, B Well includes self-help tools that put mental health services, mindfulness resources and related campus events at your fingertips.
“This app originated from discussions with the Student Counseling Services advisory board and our student government associations, which shows just how innovative and creative our students are,” said John Jones, vice president for Student Affairs. “They saw a need in their peers and worked together with partners across campus to bring their vision to life – a vision to help students be healthy and well.”
Understanding student needs
Alice Kim, a senior majoring in psychology and philosophy who is pursuing a master’s degree in public health, saw a Snapchat ad for an anonymous, open-forum app that provides a space for Dartmouth University students to discuss mental health concerns. She wondered whether something similar could be created at UAB. Kim sensed that many UAB quarantined students were struggling with isolation and it was taking a toll on their mental health, so she brought the idea of a UAB-specific app to Angela Stowe, director of Student Counseling Services.
“I wanted to put UAB at the forefront of such comprehensive and accessible technology because we are big in the mental health game – not just in this country, but internationally,” said Kim, vice president for Student Services of the Undergraduate Student Government Association (USGA).
In December, UAB became the first university in the United States to adopt the Okanagan Charter and become an internationally recognized Health Promoting University, part of the International Health Promoting Campuses Network that aspires to transform the health and sustainability of current and future societies, strengthen communities and contribute to the well-being of people, places and the planet.
USGA President Tyler Huang, a senior majoring in neuroscience who is pursuing a master’s degree in multidisciplinary biomedical sciences, had been hearing similar concerns from students – from pandemic burnout and Zoom fatigue to anxiety about political unrest. Huang said he knew UAB was offering virtual services to meet student demand, and he worked with Kim to develop the idea for B Well.
“We realized there was such a wealth of mental health resources for students at UAB, but not one centralized location where students can access that information,” Huang said. They pitched to Stowe and her co-workers an app that could be an info hub.
Kim and Huang sought feedback from the Student Counseling Services Student Advisory Board to ensure the app would meet the needs of graduate students. Meagan Jenkins, a doctoral student in graduate biomedical sciences and UAB Graduate Student Government secretary, said B Well is a great collaborative effort.
“Many students, from undergraduate to graduate students, were able to give their opinions on what features should be included in the app, so I feel like there’s a little something for everyone,” she said.
A one-stop shop
The app’s first phase launched in January with features including the interactive, personalized and customizable self-care plan that users can build. After creating a plan, students can track their healthy habits and activities each day, log a mood journal and consider goals for the following day. All that information is saved within the app, Stowe said, so students can go back and review their progress. The self-care plan can be revised at any time.
Other features include one-click access to mental health services as well as:
- TAO, the free, evidence-based online platform of tools and educational materials to help students learn about and change how they think and feel.
- Kognito, the free, interactive, simulation-based platform that teaches students ways to converse with someone when worried about their mental health.
- The Student Health Services patient portal, where students can schedule an appointment or contact their counselor.
- Information on student organizations, including Engage sites, websites and social media accounts.
- A live UAB Campus Calendar featuring mental health events on campus.
- Immediate access to emergency and crisis support, including UAB Police, Birmingham Crisis Center, the National Crisis Text Line and other hotlines 24/7.
“We hope this app will help students connect to mental health services more easily, access crisis care if needed and get involved on campus in mental health through student organizations or the numerous events,” Stowe said.
Kim said the app’s role as a “one-stop shop” for all mental health events and activities at UAB is perhaps its best feature. Students can access information on everything from yoga classes to guided meditation activities. She said the daily journaling features and the option to create customizable goals make the app unique.
“It’s time to face it – most of us have experienced some sort of anxiety, loneliness or even depression related to being a student in a global pandemic,” she said. “This app incorporates elements of mindfulness practices in conjunction with organizational involvement and programming that encourages mental and physical wellness.”
Jenkins appreciates the app’s ability to hold students accountable for self-care routines; the habit tracker helps students prioritize taking care of themselves amid preoccupation with studying and completing assignments. And if students do not already have a self-care plan, the app can help create one based on individual needs, incorporating habits such as breathing exercises to help reduce stress.
“If you’re struggling to think of things to do for self-care, there are some examples of things you can try already in the app, or if you already have a self-care routine, then you can add the things you do already,” Jenkins said. “Sometimes it can be stressful when you are integrating new things into your routine, so you can edit the tracker anytime to include or exclude activities if you find that they do or don’t work for you.”
A Blazer initiative
The app was created from the ground up by UAB IT.com, which partnered with UAB Student Affairs to take ideas and suggestions from students and develop a tool. Work started in November, and the group worked through the holidays to launch the app in January.
B Well evolved quickly, said Daniel Jones, director of Student and Advancement Enterprise Applications in IT. The entire process is based on direct feedback from students working through the combined stress of college and pandemic life. Jones specifically credits UAB IT’s mobile development team – Jonathan Sligh, Kyle Taylor, Rebekah Llinares and M.J. Moon – who took the lead on app design.
“The rapid delivery would not have been possible without so many segments of the university collaborating effectively,” Jones said. “I look forward to the continued partnership as we expand functionality, making this an even more meaningful tool for the UAB community.”
UAB leadership consistently looks for ways to support students’ mental health, Stowe said, and supporting the creation of B Well was a great way to centralize that focus.
“The partnership with Student Affairs fueled the development of this app in record time,” said Curtis Carver, vice president for Information Technology and UAB’s chief information officer. “Our IT team did a great job of interpreting students’ visions and layering that with input and feedback from faculty and staff. It’s been a true team effort, and one that exemplifies UAB’s shared value of collaboration.”
Future versions of the app may include push notification options to remind students to check in on their self-care plan, plus gamification features to provide rewards and incentives for following the plan, completing modules, doing mindfulness work and in-app exercises.
“As we all know, we are all going through challenging and difficult times, and students are certainly feeling the impact on their mental health,” Stowe said. “Leadership has had many discussions about what more can be done to support student mental health, particularly as they recognized students were entering a spring semester without a spring break and continued concern about the pandemic.”
It can be easy to get lost in the stresses of the pandemic, Jenkins said, as students worry about themselves and their peers, families and instructors. B Well can help students refocus on their mental health in achievable ways.
“Making sure we take care of ourselves and doing even small things that make us happy or relieve stress is so important,” she said. “I can tell that I’m more productive and have more energy when I take the needed time to care for myself.”
Kim echoed Jenkins’ sentiments – downloading B Well is an easy and small step toward creating better habits during difficult times.
“In today’s age of constant media bombardment, glorifying negative coping mechanisms and advertisements for extraneous material goods, I think we could all use a break from our devices; however, downloading this app is one step we can take toward consciously creating healthy habits,” Kim said. “The most difficult part of embarking on a self-improvement journey is confronting our inner selves and asking, ‘Do I want to be the best version of myself?’ Taking that first step is half the battle.”
Greater awareness of mental health issues is something many students experience during their college years, Huang said; it is often taboo before that. He said UAB has done a good job this school year of promoting student mental health with initiatives such as B Well and the spring wellness days in place of a traditional spring break.
“We took student concerns directly from the source and up the chain of command,” Huang said. “Administration took a student concern close to heart, created a solution for it and stepped in. I think that’s what students should understand – that there are so many things going on behind the scenes for them.”
This story originally appeared on the UAB News website.