Humans are social animals. Social interaction has both mental and physical health benefits. It lowers cortisol, enhancing the immune system and reducing the risk of serious health conditions such as diabetes. However, loneliness increases cortisol and is associated with depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns.

College students, especially those in their first year, may struggle to make connections while juggling coursework and the changes that come with young adulthood. New data now shows that Nod, an app for students that facilitates social skills, can successfully prevent loneliness and depression during the first year of college.

Nod, created through a joint effort between Grit Digital Health and Hopelab, uses evidence-based techniques to help students build social skills and emotional resilience. Drawing from the practices of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, and mindfulness, Nod engages students in activities that foster self-compassion and confidence.

In 2019, researchers from the University of Oregon, University of California, San Francisco, and Hopelab conducted a randomized controlled study with a cohort of 221 first-year college students. The study found that psychologically-vulnerable students benefitted most from using Nod for four weeks. The app prevented intense feelings of loneliness and symptoms of depression; it also improved sleep quality and bolstered the students’ sense of belonging and social support. Nod users also reported a desire to remain in college more frequently than a control group.

COVID-19 has exacerbated the difficulties of making social connections on campus while adding stressors about the pandemic and remote learning challenges. Nod has been updated to respond to these changes; for example, the app might send a prompt that encourages an at-risk student to reach out personally to a virtual classmate.

Research that documents the success of mental health apps supports the connection between isolation and holistic health. Apps make support easy, enjoyable, and accessible. Young adults, and the general population, stand to benefit significantly from further research and development in this area.