Blazer-created mental health app puts wellness in student hands

Written by 

Editor's Note: The information published in this story is accurate at the time of publication. Always refer to uab.edu/uabunited for UAB's current guidelines and recommendations relating to COVID-19.

Bwell general streamA new app created at UAB has 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, and 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, Ph.D., 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

The idea for B Well sprung from the Student Counseling Services Student Advisory Board. Alice Kim, a senior majoring in psychology and philosophy who also is pursuing a master of 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 and wondered if something similar could be created at UAB. Kim says she could sense 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).

kim huang jenkins streamAlice Kim, Tyler Huang and Meagan JenkinsIn December 2020, 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, a community 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 also is pursuing a master’s in multidisciplinary biomedical sciences, had been hearing similar concerns from students — from pandemic burnout and Zoom fatigue to anxiety about political unrest. Huang says he knew UAB was offering virtual services to meet student demand, and he worked with Kim to develop the specific 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 explained. They pitched an app that could serve as that info hub to Stowe and other employees in 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.”

— John Jones, Ph.D., vice president for Student Affairs

Kim and Huang sought feedback from the Student Counseling Services Student Advisory Board to ensure the app also would meet the needs of graduate students. Meagan Jenkins, a doctoral student in Graduate Biomedical Sciences and UAB Graduate Student Government secretary, says 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, which launched in January, includes a number of features — chiefly 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, says Stowe, so students can go back and review their progress. Plus, the self-care plan can be revised at any time.

Other features include one-click access to mental health services and other information, such 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
  • “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.”

    Information on student organizations, including Engage sites, websites and social media accounts
  • A live UAB Campus Calendar feed featuring all mental health events on campus for students
  • Immediate access to emergency and crisis support, including UAB Police, Birmingham Crisis Center, the National Crisis Text Line and other hotlines available 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 explained.

Kim says the app’s role as a “one-stop shop” for all mental health-related events and activities at UAB is perhaps its best feature. Students can access information on everything from yoga classes to guided meditation activities. She says the daily journaling features and option to create customizable goals also make the app unique.

Homepage   Widget
Finding Calm   Widget
Sleep Tracker   Widget
Wellness Journal   Widget

B Well features an interactive homepage and resources for finding calm, trackling sleep and wellness-journaling.

“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.

“This app incorporates elements of mindfulness practices in conjunction with organizational involvement and programming."

Jenkins says she appreciates the app’s ability to hold students accountable for their self-care routines; the habit tracker helps students prioritize taking care of themselves amid preoccupation with studying and completing assignments. And if students don’t already have a self-care plan in place, the app can help them create one based on their own individual needs, incorporating small 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, who partnered with UAB Student Affairs to take ideas and suggestions from students and develop a tool. Work started in November 2020, and the group worked through the holidays to launch the app in late January.

daniel jones insideDaniel Jones, director of Student and Advancement Enterprise Applications in ITB Well evolved quickly, says 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 stressors of college and pandemic life. Jones specifically credits 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 wouldn’t 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 says, 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 A. Carver Jr., Ph.D., 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 will 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 other in-app exercises.

“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.”

— Curtis A. Carver Jr., Ph.D., vice president for Information Technology and UAB’s Chief Information Officer

“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.”

Prioritizing health

It can be easy to get lost in the stresses of the pandemic, Jenkins says, 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 echoes 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 towards 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.”

BWell QRCode BlackScan this QR code to download B Well.Greater awareness of mental health issues is something many students experience during their college years, Huang says; it’s often taboo before that. He says that UAB has done a good job this year to promote 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.”

Download B Well from the App Store or Google Play, and learn more about the UAB App.

B Well app tileInformation for UAB employees


Employees interested in improving their mental health can access a Resource Hub featuring links and information to employee-specific health services from UAB Employee Wellness and the Employee Assistance and Counseling Center. The Resource Hub is available directly through the UAB app — just click the B Well icon. UAB IT currently is working on more tools for employees, including expanding the interactive self-care plan, activity tracking and more.