Opinions, Editorials

WellTrack Must Revise Presentation of Survey Results

University Counseling Services (UCS) released a new self-help program Monday for students called WellTrack. Students can make an account on the website and mobile application with the access code “BCWelltrack.” Through the program, students can track their daily moods and work on skills and exercises to help manage anxiety, depression, and stress.

UCS introduced WellTrack in order to provide Boston College students with an alternative platform to help address mental health issues. Director of UCS Craig Burns acknowledged that anxiety and depression are two of the most prominent concerns that students have regarding mental health on campus, and he believes that the app will help students to develop healthy approaches to dealing with these struggles.

While UCS has good intentions in implementing the app and introducing additional resources to assess mental health, the wording within the app seems too much like a medical diagnosis. After students log in to the app, they are prompted to take a 21-question quiz that only takes about a minute in order to assess their mental state. Students are then presented with varying levels of anxiety, depression, and stress that they “have,” based on their results. Burns said that WellTrack is by no means meant to provide diagnoses to students, but that fact is not made clear when someone uses the app.

If a student were to indicate symptoms of severe depression or anxiety in the survey, based on a trial, the results could read, “You have a Severe level of depression” and “You have a Extremely Severe level of anxiety.” The app also suggests that such a student “should consider seeking professional help” and “In case of emergency, please call 911 immediately.” While these statements do not necessarily represent diagnoses, the definitive wording of the app’s conclusions could easily be misconstrued by someone without a background in psychology. This creates the potential for the escalation of student alarm in regard to mental health.

To prevent confusion from users regarding a false diagnosis, the developers of WellTrack should reconsider the way that a user’s survey results are presented. Upon completion of the survey, it should be made abundantly clear that the user should seek professional, in-person help if they desire an official diagnosis. In addition, UCS should work with the third party to make BC-specific resources available to students within the app. Given the trend of popular on-campus apps at BC, UCS also might consider commissioning the creation of its own app.

While WellTrack can serve as a useful tool for addressing mental health issues such as stress, depression, and anxiety, it under no circumstances can be a substitute for personal conversation and diagnosis with a professional. The app in its current state should not be viewed as a replacement for counseling, but as a complement or additional method for dealing with the day-to-day challenges of mental illness.

To accomplish this, the app uses students’ survey results to suggest programs that can be used to improve their mental health. WellTrack has created three different “courses” that deal with anxiety and stress, depression, and phobia. The anxiety and stress program is a five-week commitment, while the depression course is six weeks. The phobia course presents students with 3-D simulations of their phobias while helping them to practice relaxation.

It is commendable that UCS is attempting to improve and provide a variety of resources available to students struggling with mental health issues. UCS has seen a sharp increase in the number of student visits made over the last few years, and many students feel that the University should do more to accommodate the mental health needs of students on campus. By providing students with an easily accessible and personalizable resource such as WellTrack that they can use to improve their everyday mental condition, UCS is making strides in the right direction.

The conclusions the app reaches regarding a student’s mentality do not carry the same weight as a personal diagnosis. Assessing the mental condition of a participating student is essential to WellTrack’s functionality, but the app should not be viewed as a source of definitive answers, and rather as a useful tool for students to find new ways to deal with issues of stress, depression, and anxiety.

March 16, 2017