‘Joyful journaling’ app from University of Michigan grads helps young people understand their mental health

ANN ARBOR, MI — Drew Pilat, Tommy Searle, Jack Kornet and Mars Hovasse were frustrated by the lack of self-care resources they said they found available to students when they were undergrads at the University of Michigan.

University counseling services were overwhelmed, and waitlists often stretched for weeks, and the self-care resources available were old and clinical, they said.

So, the four friends decided to create a resource of their own: Wellnest, a “joyful journaling” app where users can use their voice to make journal entries to help them get ready for their day, understand their moods or just make a few quick notes.

“We know that journaling is incredibly healthy and accessible, but not many of our peers were actually doing it,” Pilat said. “We also liked this shift because the majority of students experiencing mental health issues don’t seek help, but we could still reach them with Wellnest.”

Upon downloading Wellnest, which is in free public beta testing, users can create an account and explore different ways to journal. There are daily conversations, which act like a conversation between two people; quick note for short thoughts and reminders and mood check, where users can track how they’re feeling and why they’re feeling that way.

Users can also explore trending packs, featured journals and different categories. In each entry, users can type or use their microphone to speak their thoughts instead of typing. For each entry, users earn “gold,” which they can use to get different characters and avatars.

Searle, a UM computer science major and CEO of Wellnest, co-founded the app and presented the idea to Pilat and Kornet during their junior year at UM. Hovasse came on board shortly after, and the group bonded over their passion for mental health.

“While I had a great community of friends in my major, most of my friends were all over the place,” Searle said. “This is what makes (UM) so great — every college is top class.”

With Wellnest, the group hopes to make journaling more rewarding using games, unique content and a well-designed interface, Pilat said. Wellnest is built for times like this — the coronavirus pandemic — as it features guided topics like the “imposter syndrome,” dealing with stress, social isolation and defining spirituality, he said.

“Journaling has so many benefits, and everyone can incorporate journaling into their daily routine,” Pilat said. “In general, Wellnest is a quick way to stay on top of your mental health and make time for yourself.”

The group hopes to fully launch Wellnest in Apple’s App Store in mid-November with a premium version. Upgrading to Wellnest Plus unlocks powerful insights and premium content written by contributors, and current beta users will receive free, lifetime access to Wellnest Plus, Pilat said.

The group has also made time for side projects, including Exhale, a web app that helps users release negative thoughts into space, and Oasis Icons, which organizes iPhone icons and widgets.

While the group said they are focused on making Wellnest the most rewarding journal on the market, they hope it will be the first step young people take in understanding their mental health.

“The app is crucial in our overarching goal of creating more conversations around mental health and ultimately destigmatizing it,” said Hovasse, chief marketing officer and head of content.

Wellnest can be downloaded here.


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