Limiting the Growing Need for Treatment: Digital Mental Health Supports on Campus

July 1, 2024

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Title Digital Mental Health Interventions at Colleges & Universities

Authors: Sara Abelson, Daniel Eisenberg, Ashley Johnston, Sarah Ketchen Lipson, Michelle Liu, Shannon N. Ogden, and Stephen M. Schueller

Source: Ruderman Family Foundation

In the last decade, the number of college students reporting clinically significant mental health symptoms has doubled, causing higher education leadership to consider the role of digital mental health interventions (DMHIs).

Digital mental health interventions provide behavioral and psychological support through technology such as websites, mobile apps, and other online platforms. Many DMHIs are preventative resources that can support students with less acute needs. Some forms of digital intervention can reduce the need for treatment and allow students to self-manage, while others increase engagement with interventions or provide additional interventions through human support.

The Ruderman Family Foundation commissioned research into popular DMHIs offered at many colleges and universities. The researchers concluded that though they can be effective at improving mental health, most widely used DMHIs in college settings have limited direct evidence of effectiveness. There is a clear need for additional research into the effectiveness and disbursement of DMHIs, but there is also reason for optimism about the role of technology in mental health support.

The report states that each institution wanting to include DMHIs in its mental health strategies should consider how digital interventions fit with its existing system of resources and its specific population’s needs. Higher education leaders should view DMHIs as part of a holistic, public health approach to student mental health. The authors determined the following areas of research and evaluation to guide decision-making regarding the use of DMHIs for college students.

  • More rigorous evaluation of commonly used programs: How effective are commonly used campus programs for students?
  • Evaluation of user engagement: How many students on campus are actively using digital intervention tools?
  • Real-world evidence and post-deployment evaluation: What benefits do DMHIs continue to offer when used in off-campus conditions by students?

Across these areas for future research, the needs and inclusion of diverse student populations should be a top priority. Underrepresented students, such as first-generation, low-income, and students of color, are at a higher risk for adverse mental health. In looking to implement digital mental health intervention tools, students at a higher risk should be at the center of research.

To learn more about digital mental health interventions, click here.

—Eliza Gonzalez

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