With 2.3 million users and a spot on the iTunes “Best of 2017” list, the Pacifica mental health app has partnered with Texas A&M to provide free premium subscriptions to anyone with an activated tamu.edu email.
The two founders of Pacifica, Chris Goettel and Dale Beermann, worked at the same technology company and saw a need for an app that could help with mental health. Goettel, who experienced anxiety his entire life, and Beermann, who had insomnia, wanted an accessible method for addressing mental health, according to Benjamin Hardy, head of partnerships at Pacifica.
Hardy said college can be one of the most stressful times of a student’s life, creating a need for effective mental health tools.
“We know that students are reporting stress and anxiety at one of the highest levels ever,” Hardy said. “It’s a really formative time in their lives. You’re at that age where a lot of changes are happening in your maturation.”
Danielle Pompili, a licensed professional counselor at A&M, said the university is committed to improving mental health and wellness on campus through tools such as Pacifica.
“We really just want to make mental health and wellness an active part of everybody’s everyday life and really provide students, faculty and staff here at A&M access to a resource that’s really going to be able to do that,” Pompili said. “To promote and really show that Texas A&M is committed to providing these resources to students and staff and faculty in a way that they can easily access them.”
The app includes a platform for anonymous posts in a community chat board, mindfulness training, and a variety of other resources to help students stay on top of their mental health.
“Hopefully we’re just giving the counseling center and the university a better extension for students to be able to address their mental health where they are, and on their own time,” Hardy said. “To make that conversation a little less daunting to enter, to share it with their peers and then kind of have that conversation.”
Megan Culpepper, professional counselor at Student Counseling Services, said the app will address many different concerns. In addition to helping the user be more self-aware, it can also provide suggestions, tools or exercises to help improve mood.
“It can be from as mild [as] just general stress, or maybe low mood or sadness, but it also can be tailored to someone who is experiencing more increased anxiety or depression,” Culpepper said. “The app itself is designed to have students become more self-aware through checking in on the app, kind of assessing their mood for that day as well as actual exercises that they can engage in to decrease stress or increase motivation.”
In the situation of severe mental health cases, the app can play a role in wellness for the individual but may need to be used in conjunction with other services such as counseling, Culpepper said.
Emily McGovern, the head of marketing at Pacifica, said the app can be empowering for students, utilizing positive behavioral therapy, community and compassionate content.
“For college students, I think they’re experiencing one of the first adult stress scenarios in terms of social adjustment, academic pressure and a completely new environment,” McGovern said. “All of those things can drive stress.”
Though the app looks to create an experience tailored to the needs of each user, Hardy said Pacifica has decided not to flag or report any user posts containing warning signs of life-altering or damaging issues.
“We don’t want to be prohibitive of people's use of Pacifica,” Hardy said. “We, as a company, felt that if I knew that the app itself was just continually watching what I was typing into it, that I would be a lot less likely to use it.”
Information logged into the app is private and local to users’ phones. The information is never sold to third parties and not provided to A&M, according to Hardy. In the future, there may be a possibility for users to voluntarily share their information with Student Counseling Services while utilizing therapy or other resources.
To download the Pacifica app, visit thinkpacifica.com