Olugbenga Oti is a PhD candidate in Insight@UCC. Her research interests include Digital Mental Health Interventions for Young People in Higher Education, Health and Technology and Machine Learning. Her current research is focused on Improving Access to Mental Health Support for Students in Higher Education with Technology using University College Cork as a Case Study. She writes about that below:
Our research is focused on improving students’ access to mental health support, using University College Cork as a case study.
During our research, we have discovered that “lack of access” is not equal to a lack of available mental health services. One of the main challenges that students face is finding a mental health support service that fits their current needs and preferences.
Students wanted the ability to choose between formal services (i.e., run by mental health professionals) and informal services (i.e., usually run by volunteers e.g., helplines). They wanted to know what techniques would be applied by the counsellor (e.g., Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Person-Centered Therapy). They wanted to know what kind of services the therapist/counsellor offered (i.e., the treatment of depression, anxiety, or addictions). Further, they wanted to have specific information about the opening hours, and how the service operated (i.e., whether they would be assigned to one counsellor, or if the counsellor would change every session. Finally, they wanted information on the step-by-step process of how to access a service.
We found that students had to interact with services to determine most of this information, which led to frustration and significant delays in accessing mental health support.
To this end, we have developed a prototype of a mobile/web app called “Pathway”. This app will provide students with a short mental well-being assessment. It will also provide them with appropriate mental health support services based on their preferences i.e., cost of the service, the format of the service (i.e., face-to-face or online services), counselling approach (i.e., Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Person-Centered Therapy, etc.) and type of mental health support service i.e., formal/informal services.
Based on the preferences selected, students will be presented with information on recommended services. The information on services will include the cost of the service, the format of the service, the approaches to therapy/counselling, a description of the service, the services offered, opening hours, student reviews of the service, and finally FAQs that are based on student reviews.
In the next stage of our research, the prototype will undergo usability testing with students. We will also seek feedback from academic staff with experience in the design of mental health apps.
We believe that “Pathway” will help students find mental health support services that are suitable for their needs. And that it would lead to an improvement in the mental well-being of students across Ireland.