Rattled by a pandemic that has completely overturned the traditional college experience, students have endured significant levels of stress. Aiming to support students through these mental health challenges, Jun Tsuru (20B) and his team of 14 students developed the Emory chapter of Unmasked, an app focused on creating a safe and supportive community where students can anonymously share their feelings and struggles. 

First launched at Dartmouth College (N.H.) in January, Unmasked has expanded to over 20 partner colleges nationwide, each with a unique login and forum. Emory’s chapter, one of the first colleges to partner with Dartmouth, has the largest number of users to date.

Unmasked was not meant to be fully virtual, however. The team had to postpone in-person events, but Emory’s forum is attracting a growing number of users. The team members have seen positive changes within users on the forum, as users open up, seek out therapy and combat stigmas against mental health. 

Jun Tsuru (20B) launched the Emory chapter of Unmasked in April 2020./Courtesy of Jun Tsuru

Tsuru said he grew up with Unmasked’s founder and CEO, Sanat Mohapatra, and was asked to be one of the project’s first three partners soon after its launch. After he learned more about the app’s mission to create a safe and confidential space for college students to share about struggles with mental health, Tsuru decided to launch Emory’s chapter in April. 

He reached out to his classmates for help and the team now stands at 15 members, including Tsuru, Haley Grissett (22C), Davis Inwegen (22C), Anushree Jain (23C), Lindsey Reina (22C), Dan SanGiovanni (22C) and more. Several members stated the app’s mission was personal to them. 

“Mental health has meant more and more to me personally,” Reina said. “If I’m able to play a role in destigmatizing mental health, I wanted to be a part of that.” 

Other students, such as Jain, have struggled with mental health. Jain said she especially wanted to support students from countries lacking mental health resources. 

“Being from India, I always felt that there was a lack of resources,” Jain said. “I wanted to help people avoid going through what I went through.”

Davis Inwegen (22C) wanted to help students struggling with being quarantined./Courtesy of Davis Inwegen

Inwegen noted that there has been an increase in depression and anxiety among college students due to quarantine limiting social interaction. In an effort to try to help students cope through talking about their difficulties, Inwegen joined the project.

“[Unmasked] was the perfect opportunity to be there for people who feel that what they’re feeling isn’t something they can talk about,” Inwegen said.

With each team member having their own reason for joining the project, they also get to utilize their unique passions and skill sets by working under one of three sub-teams: marketing, moderation and product design. 

The marketing team, responsible for endorsing the app to potential users, frequently advertises on social media. Reina, an environmental science major with a business concentration in environmental management, noted that the team implemented the Golden Circle model for advertising, where they focus on the “why” behind the product rather than the product’s logistics. 

Lindsey Reina (22C) said the marketing team focuses on the “why” behind the product./Courtesy of Lindsey Reina

“As of late, we have really found our voice for Unmasked at Emory and what we want that to look like,” Reina said. “We’re not just promoting an app. We’re promoting a community that a lot of colleges lack right now.”

Consisting of Grissett, Jain and Inwegen, the moderation team focuses on creating guidelines for users and training procedures to guide moderators in deciding what is and isn’t harmful content on the forum. Tsuru noted that the team doesn’t include any professional counselors, so establishing strict guidelines for moderation is essential. 

With her Mental Health First Aid certification that she earned from her Residence Life experience, Grissett inspired much of Unmasked’s moderation training. Inwegen, a political science major, provided guidance for moderating political posts. Jain also contributed to political moderation and compiled mental health resources for fellow international students, including a database of international crisis centers and a suicide prevention forum available in over 20 languages.

The product design team is committed to improving user experience by adding features and redesigning parts of the app as needed. SanGiovanni has been a key player on this team, working with other student developers to refurbish some of the app’s features, including a direct messaging feature that makes for a more user-friendly experience.

Jain attributed their success to Tsuru’s leadership skills and the team’s ability to be transparent with one another. SanGiovanni said that each member of the team truly cares about the app’s impact and believes that it can change the lives of Emory students.

Moving forward, the team aims to implement a smoother, more user-friendly experience. Potential updates to the app include group-chat features and tags, allowing students to sort posts to personalize their user-experience. Tsuru said he is thankful for his diverse team coming together to make an app where all students can feel comfortable talking about their mental health.

“When you take people from so many diverse backgrounds and put them together to work on something like mental health, it creates a culture where [we] can really be more compassionate toward other people.”