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Rutgers Unmasked serves as anonymous mental health resource for students

The application serves as the Rutgers Chapter of the Unmasked Project, which aims to provide an online community for college students who may be struggling with their mental health and seeking emotional support. – Photo by Rutgers Unmasked

The anonymous mental health application, Unmasked Project, now has a chapter for Rutgers students.

Unmasked Project provides an online community for college students who seek to remove the stigma surrounding mental health and the obstacles for finding emotional support, according to its website. Since the project’s launch in January, it has reached approximately 4,500 students across 17 colleges.

Rutgers Unmasked was formed by Vanshika Bhatia and Palakshi Aurora, who are School of Arts and Sciences juniors. They said the app is a means of finding support in dealing with the stress from life at Rutgers and other colleges.

“Especially with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on the rise again, it can be so easy to fall into this trap social media lays out for us that everybody is flawless and happy,” Bhatia said. “But with this app being anonymous (and safe because we have moderators on the lookout), people have the chance to be real with each other and talk to each other about anything without feeling judged or like a ‘burden’ to others.”

Users can make and respond to posts on a public message board or contact other students directly, said board member and moderator Arianna Capuano, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior. Though students may share their stories, they may also talk about less serious topics as well, she said.

“I've posted so many times online just asking random things,” Capuano said. “I posted just two weeks ago saying, ‘What are your favorite foods for Thanksgiving’? You can ask whatever, and it just builds a sense of community for people.”

Moderators monitor the message board everyday to make sure all posts are acknowledged and everyone is using the app as intended, she said. They also receive training for offering individualized support to anyone who needs it, said moderator and board member Jillian Carrick, a School of Arts and Sciences junior.

Capuano said the app allows students to meet others going through similar struggles, whereas they might not have such encounters attending Rutgers in person. The online transition has also made it more difficult for students to build relationships with each other in general, Carrick said.

“Just having that one thing in common, all (of us) going to Rutgers, I think, is powerful,” she said. “Everything has gone online: clubs, classes, labs, everything. So then, having this (app) that fills in the gap where this peer community (was) — to have that transition online too, I think, is really important.”

As of Friday, Carrick said there were approximately 100 students using Rutgers Unmasked. She said she wants the app to grow and continue to operate after the University returns to an in-person environment.

“I think it's a good resource to use, no matter what the circumstances are,” she said. “I love seeing what people are talking about. I like responding to people and getting a like back, it's one of my favorite notifications to get on my phone … To create a positive energy and support, I think that's what I'm most excited about.”

Capuano said she is most excited to see how the app will impact those who are currently in their first year of high school and who may one day attend Rutgers.

“I want it to be something where you come to Rutgers and you're excited to join the Rutgers Unmasked app, and you're excited to do something that (is talked about by students),” she said. “(We hope) that seniors tell juniors to join and juniors tell sophomores and sophomores tell (first-years) … we hope that it continues on and on for as long as possible.”

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