When students at Florida Gulf Coast University experience mental-health issues such as anxiety, they often seek help from Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS). However, some students might not get their issues resolved with just an hour-long meeting.
While CAPS is a valuable option on campus, students such as Devon Tipton think additional counseling help could be beneficial — perhaps a communication tool that students could use anytime, anywhere they feel stressed out.
“I think an option like that would be very beneficial considering the number of stressed and anxious students in our community,” said Tipton, a senior communication major. “It could serve as a bridge to virtually visit CAPS. It would allow students more access to the mental help that they need.”
A possible solution is being developed by another FGCU student. Jack Hellmer, a junior interdisciplinary entrepreneurship major, is building an app called UByou to help his peers efficiently access the benefits that CAPS provides, and to assist therapists by providing more insight into specific issues a student may be going through.
One of UByou’s greatest benefits will be helping CAPS manage the increasing demand of students requesting its services. The app will assess the student user by asking a series of questions, and an algorithm tailors suggestions according to how the user responds. Questions can relate to how the user’s day is going or about specific events that may have impacted the user’s day. If a student decides to follow up with a CAPS meeting, the UByou data enables CAPS staff to dive deeper into specific issues the student reports through the app.
“I spoke with Dr. Jon Brunner (CAPS director), and he said they were having trouble keeping up with the growing demand of students requesting help each semester,” Hellmer said. “That’s how I started working with him to create an efficiency tool to benefit CAPS and students.”
According to Brunner, “In an academic year, a third of the students on campuses, in general, meet the criteria for a mental-health diagnosis. That’s a pretty significant amount, and that’s why we stay as busy and engaged as we can.”
The origins of Hellmer’s motivation to create UByou stem from personal struggles he faced following the death of his uncle and increasing stress from his own job as a store manager. He experienced symptoms of anxiety for several weeks, including physical and mental symptoms such as shortness of breath, heaviness in his chest and constant overthinking.
“When I started going through my own problems shortly after he (his uncle) passed, I kept thinking maybe there could’ve been something that helped him earlier,” Hellmer said. His uncle was such an inspiration that Hellmer named his business Hellmer Rath Technologies LLC in part to honor him.
Hellmer has been working closely with FGCU’s Runway Program, coordinated by the Daveler & Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship, to develop UByou. Last semester, he earned $4,000 in seed funding from the program to help convert his dream app into a reality.
Besides Brunner, another FGCU mentor who is assisting Hellmer is Dr. Sandra Kauanui, director and namesake of the entrepreneurship school. Kauanui helped Hellmer address the need for his app by directing him to experts such as Brunner, and to take the right courses to learn about app development.
“By having the kinds of exercises he does and the reminders on the app, it’s about keeping your mind on your mental health not just when you’re in dire need of help,” Kauanui said.
She compared the framework of the app to physical exercise.
“You do it for your health. This is the same thing,” Kauanui said. “What are some of the things you’re doing for your mental health to keep you from spiraling down?”
UByou is going to be beta-tested during the first half of 2021, then hopefully expanded for use among FGCU students and CAPS. Hellmer’s intended launch is fall 2022.
- Tyler Watkins is a junior majoring in journalism at FGCU who works with University Marketing & Communications.