New mobile app could help students with non-crisis depression cases

Even with additions to counseling staff, students with depression have difficulty finding daily support. The app may give students another option.

Keaton Schmitt

A new self-help app could help University of Minnesota students who struggle to find non-crisis oriented help.

Despite academic accommodations and free counseling, students looking for one-on-one support face long wait times. Amid the addition of four additional mental health counselors and partnerships with various crisis lines to help those in trouble, a University alumnus is now looking to give students another option.

Adam Moen, a University alumnus, is working on an app designed to connect students and offer 24/7 support. The app helps students focus on self-help, and connects them to others dealing with the same issues.

The self-help app, Marbles, tracks how people are affected by their depression over time and lets them identify behaviors that help them, Moen said.

Christenson said Moen approached the University last year about partnering to provide more support to students, but the app wasn’t developed enough for the University to use.

However, Boynton isn’t opposed to using Marbles on campus in the future, he said. “We’re always interested in anything that would support students,” Christenson said.

A University researcher is testing the app to see its effects on the mental health of college students, Moen said.

Erik Bensen, an Ecology, Evolution and Behavior senior was diagnosed with depression at Boynton last year. Bensen said he was diagnosed after he went to Boynton for help with another issue.

After his first meeting with a counselor, Bensen said he was only able to schedule meetings once every four weeks, and his second session was canceled due to overbooking.

Boynton Health and Student Counseling Services host free daily mental health counseling, but busy conditions can mean counselors aren’t always available, said Gary Christenson, Boynton’s chief medical officer.

“I don’t think [Boynton] has enough people to help all the needs of the school,” Bensen said, adding that he’d approve of more funding to fix the problem.

He said his depression doesn’t make him feel suicidal, but takes away his motivation and there’s no real resource to support him throughout a given day.

Christenson said the number of students looking for counseling has increased every year. About 20 percent of University students have been diagnosed with depression, according to a 2015 Boynton survey.

Bensen said he was told about available University services and crisis help, but there weren’t a lot of options for day-to-day care. Eventually he sought a therapist outside Boynton.

He said he likes the idea of the app, and that giving those with depression the chance to talk to others like them could help when counseling is sparse.

“I have great healthcare, I can see someone else. Not every student has great health care,” Bensen said. “Boynton is their only option.”