How an app lets students connect on mental health

Unmasked app is moderated by students who ensure message boards remain a safe space

A new app adopted by dozens of campuses gives students a new outlet to connect over mental health concerns and the daily challenges of campus life.

Unmasked, which launched shortly before COVID, does not take the place of a crisis or suicide hotline.

Rather, it gives students a place to share their experiences and vent about college during the pandemic, online learning, having to live at home and other issues, co-founder Sanat Mohapatra says.

“We provide a community message board where students can post anonymously about mental health or whatever is going to on in their lives,” says Mohapatra, who began developing the app three years ago while a first-year student at Dartmouth University. “Other students can respond with supportive comments and direct messages.”

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The app has launched at more than 35 schools and has about 7,500 users.

On each campus, the app is moderated by a group of students who monitor discussions for signs of students who may need immediate mental health care, co-founder Jun Tsuru says.

“One of their main responsibilities is to moderate the app to make sure the message board remains a safe space, such as adding trigger warnings about posts with difficult content,” Tsuru says. “They also check in on users and make sure the app doesn’t turn into an environment that is potentially hostile.”

The moderators also market and spread the word about the app.

Beyond the pandemic, much of the discussions revolve around about regular campus issues, such as how to get internships.

“We really believe mental health is not just ‘Today I’m struggling. It’s also, ‘Today, I’m feeling better,'” Mohapatra says. “This is one opportunity for students to still have access to people and have causal college conversations.”

Should a user appear to need immediate assistance, the system will alert moderators, who can connect that user to campus mental health services or other care.

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Unmasked has prioritized partnering with campus mental health organizations, such as Active Minds.

It has also joined forces with UWill, which provides teletherapy and virtual therapy to college students.

“We always strive to be self-aware of fact that we’re not professionals,” Tsuru says. “We want to create a student-centric community that lets students support each other, and also get them help beyond peer support, and transition to professional resources.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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