Tech Trends for Student Mental Health and Wellness Support in Higher Ed

Laura Gogia |

Former Analyst

Top of Mind: Tech Trends for Student Mental Health and Wellness Support in Higher Ed
Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes

Mental health is top of mind at many higher education institutions right now. A recent survey of 1,700 college students found that 88 percent believe there is a mental health crisis in higher education, with 70 percent of them personally reporting pandemic-related distress or anxiety. The concerns are not limited to students. Nearly one-third of surveyed faculty also report symptoms of depression, and half believe their institutions should be doing more to support mental wellness among faculty and staff.

Colleges and universities are receiving the message that mental health—along with physical health and housing and food security—are fundamental for student success. A recent EDUCAUSE QuickPoll showed that 37 percent of responding campus leaders planned to invest in health and wellness technologies in 2021 or 2022.

Like many other COVID-related higher education concerns, worsening student mental health is an exacerbation of a preexisting problem. Researchers have reported increasing levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation among college and university students for the last 10 years. During this same period, many institutions underprioritized and underfunded mental health resources for various reasons.

Like student success, student wellness crosses traditional academic silos and, therefore, can suffer from unclear governance, vision, assessment, and accountability. Furthermore, institutions that combine mental health resources with student conduct and behavioral crises can find it challenging to reframe mental health in a more holistic, inclusive, and positive light. Finally, industry experts observe that wellness services can be very expensive for institutions to do well. Many institutions have outsourced mental health resources to third-party providers, a move that has reduced costs and also institutional oversight and input. 

As institutions recognize the centrality of student wellness to student success, Tambellini analysts are observing increased interest and investment in the following mental health technologies and use cases on higher education campuses.

Best-of-Breed Solutions

Mental health counseling involves case management and requires secure appointment scheduling, client communication, clinical notes, referrals, and follow-up. Some institutions currently support these workflows through their student conduct software. However, student conduct tools were not designed to flex to this purpose and do not adapt well to mental health practice, workflows, and reporting. Institutions that are expanding in-house counseling services are improving efficiency and data-informed decision making by investing in best-of-breed counseling software. They are also investing in telemedicine technologies to facilitate virtual counseling sessions, which are popular with students (and faculty) seeking counseling.

One-Stop Shops

One of the most critical higher education trends is a one-stop shop where students can access all essential information, systems, and operations. (See this Tambellini blog post for details on navigation as a student success strategy). At baseline, institutions are improving their campus apps and student portals. Some are also implementing unified calendaring and appointment scheduling. Others are creating combined digital and physical locations for all student services. Streamlining mental health offerings with other service access points is a part of this trend.

Artificial Intelligence

Incorporating student analytics into teaching and learning workflows, advising strategies, and institutional effectiveness processes are also trending. To date, much of the AI-driven analytics focus has been on increasing and targeting student engagement for better student retention and success. However, researchers are isolating correlations between academic-related behaviors (e.g., class attendance, appointment scheduling, changes in grades, etc.) and student stress and mental health status. Technology vendors are beginning to include these data in wellness-centric early alerts and notifications. Similarly, chatbots, which are already used to support student engagement, are being retooled to flag sensitive inquiries, notify appropriate campus staff, and provide immediate access to mental health resources.

Self-Service Online Training

Recent studies indicate that students are turning to faculty for mental health support. Many faculty are willing to help but recognize that they lack the appropriate skills or knowledge to support students effectively (and protect themselves from burnout and other negative personal effects). Therefore, some institutions are providing faculty with gatekeeping training to enhance ability and self-efficacy in proactively addressing signs of emotional distress and making appropriate referrals. Survey data indicates that many faculty prefer online, self-service modules to in-person training because they offer greater flexibility. Some schools are taking online training further to support self-awareness and self-help (Central Florida University’s Therapy Assistance Online wellness modules offer one example).

Wellness Apps and Online Surveys

At a minimum, institutions are encouraging faculty to check-in with students via online surveys or classroom response systems (i.e., clickers) and to share campus wellness resources widely. Increasingly, institutions are designing homegrown wellness apps that increase awareness to through self-checks, assist with self-care plans, and provide access to campus resources (B Well UAB from the University of Alabama-Birmingham offers one example).

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Laura Gogia |
Former Analyst
Dr. Laura Gogia researches, advises, and publishes at the intersection of pedagogy, student experience, and academic technology. She has extensive experience in online learning design and faculty development across higher education, community, and professional learning contexts. Prior to joining Tambellini Group, Laura served as the director of LX Innovation at iDesign.

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