Like every college and university in the nation, the University of Memphis has struggled with a rapid and ongoing rise of student demand for mental health services. We’re also grappling with the realities of the mental-health crisis in America: According to a recent study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, U.S. teens and young adults today are more distressed and more likely to suffer from major depression than their counterparts of the same age in previous generations.
The conclusion is that when it comes to issues of mental health in young adults, things are getting worse, not better. The study’s findings indicate we need to reconsider how we approach student mental-health challenges. Ultimately, this means making an imperative shift toward identifying what students need to succeed and learning how we can help them address the issues that contribute to depression, loneliness, and low self-esteem before the development of clinical symptoms.
At the University of Memphis, we recognized that we could never provide one-on-one outreach to every student who is feeling challenged by college. But we also knew we needed to do more, especially for those students who do not or will not use the existing services available. This is what drove our decision to examine how we could reach students in new ways.
How we use technology to better address student mental health
Our initial interest was really in the student mental-health area, but we realized that very often seemingly routine issues such as academic challenges, financial pressures, or homesickness can precipitate more acute problems down the road. These are the areas where guidance and assistance early on and “in the moment” can really help improve student lives—and prevent issues from snowballing into larger mental-health concerns.
What’s more, we realized we needed to connect with students where they spend a large percentage of their time, which today is on the internet. All of these considerations guided us toward an online solution that could provide self-directed help, available confidentially by students on their own time in their own way.