Appa At La Salle — Mental Health Through Mentorship


Clare Daudelin

Counselors intend to offer Appa as an approachable resource for students that could provide them long-term help.

Lucas Pinaire, Staff Reporter

La Salle announced its new partnership with online youth support resource Appa earlier this fall. This resource comes in addition to the counseling department’s efforts to support struggling students by pairing them with qualified mentors.

This new partnership was implemented partly because of the staffing shortages in the counseling department. “It’s nice to have another resource to provide for families and students, knowing that we’re a little short-staffed,” counselor Mr. Kevin Doyle said. Additionally, due to the widespread stresses of the pandemic, therapy is hard to come by

“Even if somebody’s on a waitlist for a therapist, I think this is a great starting point,” counselor Ms. Michelle Berry said. 

Appa is a $50 a week 12-week program that pairs teenagers ages 13-18 with carefully chosen mentors. Mentors will guide students through an expertly designed curriculum specific to that student. Additionally, participants have access to one-minute videos in which experts teach proven strategies to address mental health issues.

Appa is the fourth start-up of 1989 La Salle graduate Robert Miller. Miller has mental health experience from working at Big Health, an award-winning company offering digital therapeutics, but the driving force in Appa’s creation was his son’s experience with anxiety and depression.

Having this insight “really impressed upon [Appa developers] that there was a big gap in the market for supporting younger people with their mental health needs,” Miller said. “Ultimately, it took us about three and a half months to find an available therapist, and even when we did, that idea of once a week talk therapy with someone who was much much older than him that actually didn’t really have any experience on social media or gaming, or any of the things he was working on or going through, it just didn’t feel like a great fit.” 

That’s where Appa came in.

As stated on the Appa website, Appa operates under the notion that “it is powerful to be heard by someone who can personally relate to your story and who can provide a thoughtful point of view.” 

“It’s not that you have to have a mental health ‘problem’ or be struggling to want to do the program,” Miller said. “I think any kid that wants to build this toolkit and better understand how their mind works and how that impacts their mental health and their resilience and overall health will get a ton out of this.”

Appa’s mentoring program is not therapy and does not substitute for therapy if needed. Rather, mentors offer guidance through challenging times and hope to help students focus on their goals.

Each mentor typically works around 20 hours per week and is able to help about 20 kids.

Appa and therapy aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, but Miller believes Appa has an advantage in a few areas.

“I think we can make it more accessible in particular to marginalized communities that wouldn’t normally be able to get care or get care in a way that’s relevant or thoughtful,” Miller said. “I also think we can do this in a way that’s really affordable and scalable, so I think there’s really a chance to change the way teens are supported.”

In addition to the training they receive from Appa, mentors are college-educated, have mental health work experience, and have developed skills to face their own challenges. 

“We put them through extensive training on the front end, and then all of their interactions with teens are reviewed by licensed therapists,” Miller said.

A mentor at Appa is just that — a mentor. “Many of us have had a teacher, coach, or other trusted adult who has made a positive difference in our lives,” the Appa website says. “We believe that all teens deserve a mentor to help guide them through challenging times and focus their goals.”

Participants are quickly matched with a mentor who shares aspects of their identity. “[Appa] kind of came out of the idea that students need someone or want someone that they can relate to,” Ms. Berry said.

With mentorship and the many short videos that participants have access to, Miller feels that Appa is “a playbook that they can use for the rest of their lives.”

Despite just starting up, Appa is already partnered with seven West Coast schools, hoping to finalize contracts with others soon. If they find success at the school level, Appa intends to partner with large employers looking to support their employees.

At La Salle, counselors will suggest Appa as a perhaps more approachable and accessible option for students needing support.