Pairing in Progress: Students, with Tech, See Improved Outcomes on Campus
A college freshman faces many decisions early in his or her undergraduate career. The burdens mount quickly — the financial pressures, academic workloads, and the challenge of sorting through the new people and perspectives they’ll have to understand in this environment.
During the last ten years, technology has touched every aspect of this experience. Logging into an institution’s academic portal is like a “home base” for resources available. Universities have spent millions upgrading their digital presence as a form of advertising, promotion and student convenience.
The cracks when it comes to mental health, however, are prominent to anyone who looks closely enough. Colleges and universities are struggling to enable better awareness and access to mental wellness resources on campus. According to a 2017 study from The Healthy Minds Network, a total of 39 percent of students are experiencing a significant mental health issue.
It’s a clear and present deficiency with a complicated solution, but today there are many options available.
NeuroFlow is a company born through research conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, but really out of necessity. Think about the aforementioned portal for students, but one that objectively tracks the progress of key behavioral metrics. It’s a functionality we’ve been pursuing for nearly three years, and a tool that mental health providers are embracing as a way to keep clients engaged.
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at the University of Michigan as part of The Healthy Minds Network’s annual research symposium. A room full of mental health counselors, administrators, and researchers had one thing on their mind: optimizing the content and accessibility to high quality mental health resources for students.
The numbers show a need for improvement, as the most recent Healthy Minds Network report (which surveyed more than 50,000 students) found that the top reasons for not seeking treatment included financial reasons (23%), a preference to deal with issues on their own (28%), and not enough time (35%).
As a mission-driven group, data samples like this compel our team to take action. When students opt out of treatment because of perceived costs and stigma, that’s something we can correct. If academic institutions collaborated with innovative partners in the technology industry like NeuroFlow, we could offer customized portals at no cost to the individual student.
How can we make it easier for students to seek treatment and erase some of these invisible walls? One way is through gamification and repetition. By providing a stimulating real-time dashboard to visualize progress, patients receive “awards” and embrace the steps along the road to wellness and resiliency. With smartphones at the hip of nearly every student, offering resources directly through a mobile app is another way to enhance access to and delivery of care.
Groups like The Healthy Minds Network are raising awareness within the student population and driving more visitors to counseling services on campus. NeuroFlow, and other technology companies, can then add a modern tool to the wellness center.
This two-pronged approach will take time, but those who attended the symposium are currently on the front lines of this cultural and technological shift. Encouraging developments are already happening on campuses like Colorado State University, were a student “well-being portal” called “YOU” connects students to the right resources categorized by academic/career, mental and physical health, and meaning/campus connections.
The automated platform includes a back-end for administrators to chart key data sets, understand patterns of usage, and tweak preferences. So far, the results are conclusive: 87 percent of student users reported increasing their awareness of campus resources; 76 percent reported that their interaction with the portal helped them manage their stress.
What we are learning is that it is not just the marginalized student who faces obstacles to strong mental health. The net has been cast wider than in years’ past, with numbers rising in all categories, while the treatments have remained the same.
We’re here to take what we know — technology — and bring it to life for students of all ages.
It’s no longer a moonshot to reduce stress and anxiety for teens and college-aged students. We just need to collaborate, iterate, and listen to the students who often struggle to admit there may be a lingering problem.
For the Class of 2022, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Survey results and referenced data provided by the The HealthyMinds Network. For more information, please visit healthymindsnetwork.org.