More colleges and universities are turning to technology–including web portals and student mental health apps–to address anxiety, mindfulness, and well-being.
The YOU at College portal is one such resource for student mental health. Created by Grit Digital Health and Colorado State University (CSU), the well-being web portal promotes student mental health, health, and success. After its fall 2015 launch at CSU, 81 percent of surveyed first-year students said they felt they were better able to manage their stress because of the YOU tool.
The portal is customized for each individual campus and personalized to the specific needs of each student. It proactively focuses on three critical areas of student life: academics, physical/mental health, and purpose/connection. Students create a confidential profile and receive content and information on available campus resources that help them navigate the college experience according to their individual needs.
YOU at College has been adopted by 22 schools, including Coastal Carolina University, South Dakota State University, Connecticut College, and Loyola Marymount University.
“Like so many schools across the country, we’ve wrestled with an increased student need for mental health services,” says Dan Bureau, associate vice president for student success at the University of Memphis, which uses the YOU portal. “In just its first three months, more than 1,060 students, faculty and staff took advantage of the resources available on YOU at Memphis. We believe this platform will be a factor in helping our students be successful and realize their academic, career, and psychosocial goals.”
YOU at College is one of a growing number of digital solutions aimed at supporting, and improving student mental health and well-being. These solutions aren’t a substitute for professional face-to-face care, especially in the event of a mental health crisis, but student mental health apps, along with tools focusing on mindfulness, can help students create positive habits on campus and in life.
Grants to evaluate the effectiveness of smartphones and student mental health apps are becoming more common. A Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis research team will use a five-year, $3.8 million grant to evaluate the use of smartphones in treating psychiatric problems that are common among college students.
“Not enough services are available to meet the mental health needs of students on college campuses,” says principal investigator Denise E. Wilfley, PhD, the Scott Rudolph University Professor of Psychiatry and director of the Washington University Center for Healthy Weight and Wellness. “We’ve been in contact with many counseling centers on a number of college campuses, and they tell us that increasing numbers of students are struggling with many more problems, including severe problems, and counselors just can’t see them all. Without timely interventions, these problems can have lasting effects on students’ health, social, educational and economic outcomes.”
In late 2018, Purdue University’s Counseling and Psychological Services launched WellTrack, a web and application-based service to help address student mental health and wellness needs. WellTrack helps students track their moods and learn ways to cope and manage them more effectively. CAPS clinicians use the application in conjunction with therapy programs, or students also can use the program independently. WellTrack includes an invitation-only sharing feature that allows students to voluntarily share their WellTrack information with their clinician at CAPS, aiding in their ongoing therapy. Students can choose to cancel the information sharing at any time.
Breathe, from Northwestern University, offers guided medications and breathing practices. The stress management resource helps students learn to deal with stress and helps them develop positive coping schools to reduce the negative impact stress can have on the mind and body.
Here are a few student mental health apps for meditation and mindfulness. These apps are not school-specific, meaning they are freely available for download regardless of where students are enrolled.
1. Headspace is a popular app that offers guided meditation to help lower stress, improve focus, and sleep better.
2. Stop, Breathe & Think uses the three words in its name to prompt users to stop what they’re doing to examine their thoughts and feelings; to practice mindful breathing to create space between thoughts, emotions, and reactions; and to leverage personalized meditations and activities to broaden perspectives. A section called Learn to Meditate offers insight into the science behind meditation.
3. MindShift uses strategies based on cognitive behavioral therapy to help users relax, be mindful, and decrease anxiety.
4. Breathe2Relax is a portable stress management tool that provides detailed information on the effects stress has on the body. The app offers instructions and practice exercises to help users learn the stress management skill called diaphragmatic breathing.
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