Reducing mental health stigma with a student-led platform

Overview is a digital mental health community that was created to address an alarming rise in the rates of teen anxiety, depression, and suicide. allows students to safely share their stories and provides them a safe place to seek support from peers, school, and their community.

What we did

  • Market Research

  • User Research

  • Interviews

  • Testing

  • Design

  • Development

Understanding the problem

When schools moved their classrooms to virtual and hybrid learning models because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Montgomery County ADAMHS realized that students were suddenly separated from important mental health resources and partnered with Ascend to address the sudden divide with an app that students could install on their phones and Chromebooks.

We conducted primary and secondary research, discovering that rates of teen anxiety, depression, and suicide have been on an alarming rise over the past 10 years. To add to this problem, students now found themselves separated from their friends and peers. As we learned during our discovery research interviews with students, their friends and peers are the people that they feel most comfortable talking to about issues such as anxiety and depression.

Validating the need

We sought to validate these problems by interviewing several high school counselors, teachers, and principals. Two major themes arose. The first was that there had been a marked rise in student anxiety and depression, but the ratio of counselors to students had stayed the same.

The second was that counselors were increasingly not involved until a student was at a point of crisis. Instead of proactively working with students to develop resiliency and building awareness about mental health, their roles had become very reactionary.

Designing with, and for, students

Before starting to design the look, feel, and functionality of, we spoke with over 40 students to get their input. They preferred a bright, cheerful color pallette and helped us narrow in on the three main functions of the app. We also learned that they preferred to have a safe digital environment where they could freely share stories that were personal to them and relevant to other students.

In addition, had to be safe for students, easy for them to access, engaging, all while following federal privacy guidelines.

Connecting students with resources

While speaking with students, we learned that they were often unaware of the mental health resources available to them in their schools and communities. We sought to address this issue by adding available school resources, such as counselors, social workers, and principals, along with available community resources, to the database. These are all searchable in the app.

We also plan to address the lack of available, real time crisis counselors by implementing a text and telehealth solution that will allow students to quickly connect with a caring and helpful person.

Postive Results

We launched a pilot of with 17,000 students in schools throughout the Dayton area, and the initial results have been incredibly encouraging. We’ve been blown away by the stories shared by students and are continually monitoring and improving the site based on their feedback. With proof of the power of the community, we have helped ADAMHS meet its goals of reducing mental health stigmas and increasing awareness of community and school resources available to students.

Interested in bringing to your school district? Learn more here

We created