Making mental health more engaging and accessible
I’ll sleep tomorrow. I’ll exercise next week. I’ll start dating after I graduate. These are some of the ways that students postpone their mental health. One in ten students meet criteria for depression; one in five an anxiety disorder; one in three, significantly impairing stress and a hundred percent of students experience these issues at some level because that’s university life. So, what we need is effective prevention program that can keep students skills to improve their daily life, but of course there are reasons why prioritizing our mental health is difficult. Busy schedules, stigma; a preference of figuring it out myself. So, how is my research overcoming these barriers? I’m building an online anxiety and depression prevention program that students can use when they want, where they want. Now, there are some online programs that had been tested in research studies and they’re effective but they’re not widely used because they’re poorly marketed and they’re specially not used by male students. On the other side we’re increasingly seeing consumer apps and products which are more widely used, but we don’t even know if they work because they haven’t been researched. My program combines the skills and engagement strategies of these research program along with those consumer-oriented marketing strategies. So my program teaches skills week-by -week. You know, personal skills, physical exercise, mindfulness and students log skills every time they practice. All of this is incentivized by things like weekly prize drawings, insights into their stress and mood ratings and customizable email practice reminders. Now I’m advertising this same program here under two different names. The Happiness Challenge and Reboot Camp. This is in order to investigate the impact of marketing on student enrollment. So, did Reboot Camp actually attract different students than the Happiness Challenge? Yes, the men. So, especially those from the physical sciences, so the exact same program is marketed. Different names, different students sign up. Overall more students were engaged. In terms of performance, my research studies show that the students who complete the program experience significant improvements in their anxiety and in their depression. Five thousand students have already tried to program and I’m continuing to research how marketing and incentives can engage more and more students because this knowledge could be applied to any mental health intervention. But shifting tone, at my college graduation two seats were empty because two would be 2012 grads had committed suicide before graduating. I like to imagine a world in which anxiety and depression are prevented before students get to that place. So this research isn’t rocket science. But mental health is something that affects everyone on every day and the more students we can engage in it, the better. Thank you.