Even before COVID-19 caused campuses to close their doors and send everyone home, college students increasingly reported loneliness and isolation as critical barriers to success and graduation. A recent survey at a large state school found that 41% of students who dropped out or transferred cited “feeling socially alone” as a key factor in their decision to leave.¹
The mental health challenges that college students face in 2020 are unlike those of any previous generation. Mounting evidence shows that Gen Z has unprecedented levels of anxiety, stress and loneliness. The first truly digital natives, they were raised in fear of school shootings and political upheaval, and are growing up amidst a suicide epidemic. A recent survey led by Cigna found that Gen Z was the loneliest generation.
In partnership with Hopelab, a social innovation lab based in San Francisco, Grit Digital Health created Nod in 2019 with the goal of helping college students form meaningful connections and combat loneliness on campus. The app was co-designed with students around the country and uses evidence-based strategies intended to improve students’ social connection and resilience. Nod was initially tested through a randomized control trial (RCT) at the University of Oregon. Pilot research showed that using Nod led to reductions in loneliness and depression symptoms among the most vulnerable students. The app was midway through another pilot at the University of Colorado, Denver, when COVID-19 struck.
As the pandemic’s impact spread across the country, abandoned students have been forced to discover new ways of maintaining their social connections. And as colleges scramble to adapt to fully online teaching, they seek support in helping students stay connected to their peers, teachers and campus community.
Grit Digital Health and Hopelab began updating Nod in March 2020 to address the unique challenges brought about by physical distancing and isolation from a campus environment. We looked to the science of social connection to create tips and tools that help students thrive, even through the difficult social context of a pandemic. In addition to filling the app with new content and tools, we’ve expanded access beyond our pilot campus partners to offer Nod for free to all students. Read more about the recent launch of Nod.
As colleges eventually bring students back to campus, Nod will again shift to support the evolving mental health needs of students in a post-pandemic world. For now, we are grateful to be contributing to the solution, in whatever way we can, during this time of crisis and uncertainty. Our YOU at College team has also been hard at work, supporting students on over 100 campuses through COVID-19.
We encourage all students and interested parties to download the app and let us know what you think. #YouAreNodAlone
¹Beyer C, Davis-Unger A, Lowell N, McGhee D, Peterson J. UW Undergraduate Retention and Graduation Study. Office of Educational Assessment; 2014. http://depts.washington.edu/assessmt/pdfs/reports/OEAReport1401.pdf
Read the Press Release: Combating Loneliness and Isolation in College Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic