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An app that equips college students with science-backed skills to build satisfying social connections

Loneliness has a profound impact on mental health, especially among GenZ youth in the U.S.

Higher education leaders are facing unprecedented challenges in meeting the demand for student mental health resources and services. Every new school year, the number of students in need increases: in a recent survey of more than 500 counseling center directors, nearly 90% reported experiencing an increase in demand for counseling services in the past year. The COVID-19 pandemic brings additional complications as it disrupts the traditional in-person delivery channels commonly used for prevention programs and care.

Enter Nod. Developed in partnership with Grit Digital Health, the Nod app for college campuses offers higher education leaders a research-backed tool they can confidently share with students, knowing it addresses two critical threats to student mental health: loneliness and depression.

Nod uses evidence-based practices including principles of positive psychology, cognitive behavioral therapy, motivational interviewing and mindfulness self-compassion to equip students with the skills to build social connections whether they are on-campus or remote.

In a 2019 randomized controlled trial conducted with 221 first-year college students, four weeks of Nod use prevented loneliness and depression among those students most at risk at the start of the year. Additionally, there were similar patterns of improved outcomes for sleep quality, campus belonging, social support, and intention to return to college among students who used Nod compared to those who were in a control group, according to results published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research Mental Health (JMH).  

Each year Fast Company highlights the best new apps and games in various categories. Nod received recognition as a finalist in both the Social Good and Apps & Games categories.

Why This Matters

Loneliness is More Than an Unpleasant Feeling

Lonely young people are at heightened risk for anxiety1 and depression2, poor sleep3, substance use4-5, susceptibility to illness6, self-harm, and suicidality7-9.

New data from an Active Minds Survey of 2,086 college students regarding the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health finds 80% of students reported experiencing loneliness and isolation, putting it among the top three most common problems alongside stress and anxiety (91%), and disappointment/sadness (81%).

To deepen our understanding of loneliness, Hopelab engaged experts, conducted scientific literature reviews, and leveraged human-centered design approaches to learn from students’ first-hand college experiences.

Many College Students Report Feeling Lonely

~30% of college students reported feeling “very lonely” in the past two weeks.
~67% of college students reported feeling “very lonely” within the past year10.

I like the quotes from other students, it is nice to be reminded of things easily forgotten while upset.
Nod app user

Social Factors Are A Key Driver of Student Attrition

The social and emotional needs of students are inextricably linked to academic success.

Percentage of students endorsing social reasons for leaving before graduation at a large university11:

41% I felt socially alone.
29% I felt unwelcome here.

How Nod Works

Nod supports students to build social connections in three ways:

  1. Ideas: prompts based on the science of social connection that help students take small, achievable steps to build social connections.
  2. Reflections: short in-app exercises that help students process social experiences, reduce self-criticism, and build resilience so they can keep progressing toward their social goals.
  3. Testimonials: real student perspectives on social connection that reinforce the message that building connections takes time and effort.

Nod was co-developed in partnership with Grit Digital Health. To request a demo, or to find out how to bring Nod to your campus, visit their site.

Co-design process

More than 100 students contributed their stories, wisdom, and creativity first-hand to shape Nod into a tool that truly resonates with Gen Z students. It’s thanks to them that we have received glowing feedback from students who have tried Nod.

The goals on the app have made me realize there are things I can do to be more proactive in my relationships.
Nod allows me to think of ways to interact with people that I probably wouldn't have thought of on my own. It opens more opportunities for me.

Student Voices

Stories are powerful. Learn what it’s like to be a college student today from one of our featured student perspective blogs.

Struggling With Social Connections

The transition from high school to college can be hard! The struggle is definitely real.

My Loneliness Experience and “Awakening”

I had never spoken with anyone about loneliness as something that affected people my age. I simply didn’t know what loneliness was or that people my age could experience it.

Press Inquiries

If you are a member of the press, please contact Robin Raskob for more information about our loneliness work and the Nod app.

1Ebesutani C, Fierstein M, Viana AG, Trent L,Young J, Sprung M. The Role of Loneliness in the Relationship between Anxiety and Depression in Clinical and School-Based Youth: Loneliness, Anxiety and Depression. Psychol Schools. 2015;52(3):223–34 doi:10.1002/pits.21818

2Ladd GW, Ettekal I. Peer-related loneliness across early to late adolescence: Normative trends, intra-individual trajectories, and links with depressive symptoms. J Adolesc. 2013;36(6):1269-1282. doi:10.1016/j. adolescence.2013.05.004

3Matthews T, Danese A, Gregory AM, Caspi A, Moffitt TE, Arseneault L. Sleeping with one eye open: Loneliness and sleep quality in young adults. Psychol Med. 2017;47(12):2177-2186. doi:10.1017/S0033291717000629

4Stickley A, Koyanagi A, Koposov R, Schwab-Stone M, Ruchkin V. Loneliness and health risk behaviours among Russian and US adolescents: a cross-sectional study. BMC public health. 2014 Dec;14(1):366.

5Segrin C, McNelis M, Pavlich CA. Indirect effects of loneliness on substance use through stress. Health communication. 2018 May 4;33(5):513-8.

6Pressman SD, Cohen S, Miller GE, Barkin A, Rabin BS, Treanor JJ. Loneliness, social network size, and immune response to influenza vaccination in college freshmen. Health Psychol. 2005;24(3):297-306. doi:10.1037/0278-6133.24.3.297

7GrøHolt B, Ekeberg øIvind, WichstrøM L,Haldorsen T. Young suicide attempters: A comparison between a clinical and an epidemiological sample. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2000;39(7):868-875. doi:10.1097/00004583-200007000-00015

8Junker A, Bjørngaard JH, Bjerkeset O. Adolescent health and subsequent risk of self- harm hospitalisation: A 15-year follow-up of the Young-HUNT cohort. Child Adolesc Psychiatry Ment Health. 2017;11(1). doi:10.1186/s13034-017-0161-8

9Schinka KC, VanDulmen MHM, Bossarte R, Swahn M. Association between loneliness and suicidality during middle childhood and adolescence: Longitudinal effects and the role of demographic characteristics. J Psychol. 2012;146(1-2):105-118. doi:10.1080/0022398 0.2011.584084



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