How Grinnell College and Neolth Partnered to Increase Access to Mental Health Support for Students
Knowing that stress is the most common health issue affecting college students, the office of Student Health and Wellness (SHAW) at Grinnell College has partnered with Neolth, a company that helps students manage stress by empowering them to develop resiliency skills.
A pilot program in spring 2021 has already yielded positive results, showing that many Grinnell students find the program helpful.
Neolth’s digital platform and mobile app offer personalized, private stress and mental health support to students through relaxation practices, health tracking, educational videos, student vlogs, and livestream events. With their proprietary crisis referral system, Neolth connects students in real time to life-saving care, including crisis text and voice hotlines and direct referrals to school crisis services.
Neolth connected to the College via Techstars Iowa, a college/Techstars partnership that promotes and sponsors entrepreneurship. Grinnell partnered with Techstars in 2019 to create Techstars Iowa. Neolth’s CEO and founder, Katherine Grill, met Techstars Iowa’s managing director, Kerty Levy, in February 2020; and from there the new mental health support program for Grinnell began to take shape.
Grill is a behavioral neuroscientist specializing in integrative and behavioral health who recognizes the need to make care more affordable, convenient, and impactful for young adults. “Neolth’s innovative approach to mental health care is unique because it is built for students and in partnership with over 250 students who participate in our advisory board, internship or ambassador program. Co-designing [mental] health programs with youth is so important to ensure their voices are heard and their needs are met,” Grill says.
How it came together
Grill met Levy at the SoGal Global Finals, the largest competition for female founders in the world, after winning the SoGal San Francisco Regional Pitch Competition. After hearing Grill’s pitch, Levy, one of the judges, approached her about the Techstars Iowa program. “They were looking for innovative companies to join their network and, given that colleges were their industry partners, it was a good fit for us. When we were accepted, our team was thrilled, because Techstars has a less than 1% acceptance rate,” Grill says.
Jainen (JT) Thayer, Grinnell College chief investment officer, was instrumental in forming the initial Techstars Iowa partnership in 2019 with Techstars, a company that provides support to startup tech companies.
Terry Mason, dean for health and wellness, was first introduced to Neolth’s Grill in the spring of 2020 though Robert Gehorsham ’76, an all-star mentor at TechStars Iowa, and Thayer. At the time, Neolth was still in the development phase. Mason, Paul Valencic, senior staff counselor and the SHAW team agreed to work with Grill and her team over the summer of 2020, providing insight from the perspective of a university counseling center.
“We would discuss features, share mock-ups, and demo both the student and counselor-facing solutions. SHAW’s help enabled our team to bring the product to life,” Grill says. Both Neolth and Grinnell have Student Advisory Councils. Neolth’s student advisers helped with the development of the platform.
Creating a successful pilot program
During the 2021 spring terms, SHAW and Neolth launched a pilot at Grinnell with more than 100 students. What they discovered were high sign-up and engagement rates. Grinnell students kept Neolth open (on average) on their phones or computers for 21.3 hours per week, logging in up to 28 times per week. Focus groups revealed students kept Neolth open on their computer during the day as a safety net or source of comfort, a resource they can immediately access if they feel overwhelmed.
Neolth also tracked health outcomes and found Grinnell students experienced a 22.2% decrease in stress after eight weeks. “Based upon this result, we entered into a contractual arrangement with Neolth to provide their stress management app to all Grinnell College students free of charge beginning in Sept 2021,” Mason says. “I would encourage any student who is experiencing stress and anxiety to try this app out as a part of stepped model of care. It’s a terrific resource!”
Within a month of introducing Neolth to the entire student body, 9% of Grinnell students were using the app to support their mental health. “In my work with Grinnell, I saw firsthand that Grinnell College is dedicated to student services, especially student mental health,” says Grill. “During the pandemic we saw a range of responses from schools regarding mental health. Many prioritized physical health and safety precautions (which are important) but slashed mental health budgets, despite increases in student stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. Grinnell is different. Even in the height of the pandemic, Dr. Mason and his team at SHAW were thinking about access to mental health support and addressing the lasting effects of the pandemic on student mental health.”
Grill shares Neolth’s plans for the future: “Our goal is to change the way mental health is delivered in schools, using our technology to increase access to care for students. We’re striving toward equipping the 40 million teens and young adults in the United States with the tools they need to manage stress, because we know that mental wellness is the foundation to students accomplishing their dreams.”
Neolth’s mission is to help students stress less and become part of our compassionate community. Its app helps students build resilience with personalized relaxation practices; increase emotional awareness with health tracking; learn about mental health with expert advice videos; reduce stigma with student stories, where peers share their lived experiences; develop a sense of belonging with livestream community events; and feel safe with real-time referrals to crisis care.
Neolth enables schools to provide affordable, on-demand care to the entire student body while counselors focus on high-needs students. When schools do have a waitlist, Neolth enables counselors to provide a resource to students for immediate use. Counselors can track how students are doing while waitlisted via Neolth real-time updates. The impact is a reduced counselor workload and increased access to care for students.
The worldwide network that helps entrepreneurs succeed. Founded in 2006, Techstars began with three simple ideas — entrepreneurs create the future, collaboration drives innovation, and great ideas can come from anywhere. Today its mission is to make innovation accessible to everyone, everywhere. It does this by connecting startups, investors, corporations, and cities to create a more sustainable and inclusive world.