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Credit: Alana Kelly

Penn is providing students, faculty, and staff a six-month premium subscription to Wellnest, a mindfulness app that promotes self-reflection and journaling in a creative and rewarding way. 

Wellnest is the newest part of the University's Penn Cares program to help the Penn community cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Chief Wellness Officer Benoit Dubé announced the initiative in an email to Counseling and Psychological Services and Wellness email list serves, as well as on the University's COVIDPenn Instagram account. 

Director of Outreach and Prevention Services at Penn's Counseling and Psychological Services Batsirai Bvunzawabaya said that the app was designed with college students in mind and lets users engage in journaling — through either a speech-to-text feature or by typing — as many times as they want throughout the day. Each time a user engages in mindfulness practices on the app, they receive in-app currency, allowing them to purchase upgrades and avatars.

Bvunzawabaya said she hopes that the Penn community will particularly enjoy the speech-to text-feature because it enables users to verbalize and articulate their feelings without having to focus on typing them out. 

Users are able to set a reminder once a day for the app to alert them to complete a “mood check,” where they select feelings — such as content, tired, or overwhelmed — from a colorful array of bubbles, and then prompted to reflect on why they chose those feelings. In addition to these daily check-ins, users can engage in guided content sessions, which ask users to answer a series of questions. The sessions are curated by mental health experts in one of four categories: personal growth, emotional health, relationships, and physical health. 

“[Wellnest] get experts in the field to write about the content,” Bvunzawabaya said. “[The content is] informed by mental health professionals to think about some of those developmental issues students may be experiencing”

To get the premium version, members of the Penn community must sign up using their Penn email domain. Bvunzawabaya emphasized that while Penn pays for the account, it does not have any access to what is journaled or accessed on the app. 

“All we’ll know is a number to know how much Penn needs to pay," Bvunzawabaya said "All you write is between you and the app.”

The free version allows users to do mood checks and free-hand entries, but has limited access to the guided content and the “insights” features which provides a weekly round-up of journaling activity.

While Bvunzawabaya said she is excited for the Penn community to use the app, it is only intended as an additional avenue of mental health support. CAPS remains open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and a clinician is always on call. For appointments, CAPS is open Monday to Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to  5 p.m., and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.

“We don’t necessarily want students to feel like if they don’t want this that means they have nothing else,”  Bvunzawabaya said. “It just means that this is one of the resources among many to make sure that students are getting support.”