Technology and College Student Mental Health
Kristina Dale | January 10, 2020 | Educational Institutions
College students’ mental health is a topic we have discussed in previous blog posts. With winter break winding down, and students returning to classes, we thought it would be appropriate to discuss the topic again. With that being said, this week we will be discussing a short review article titled, Technology and College Student Mental Health: Challenges and Opportunities. This article was written by Lattie, Lipson, and Eisenberg, and was published this past April in the journal, Frontiers of Psychiatry. In this article, the authors discuss ways in which personal technology has changed the college environment, as well as what sorts of challenges and opportunities have emerged both on a personal level, and on an organizational level.
What did they do?
In this succinct article, the authors briefly describe a variety of studies that have previously investigated the impact of technology on college students’ mental health. Some of the discussed studies included research investigating the use of smartphones, social media use, and the implementation of computer-delivered mental health programs.
Why did they do it?
As we have discussed before on our blog, there appears to be an increase in mental health symptoms that emerge in conjunction with attending college. The authors cite a large, epidemiological study that reported a 22-36% rise in reported symptoms of mental illness over the past 10 years among college student populations. While the overall stigma of mental health has been decreasing, there is still a prominent need to explore the “campus mental health crisis.” There are a number of factors that could be contributing to the rise in mental health symptoms across college campuses, but as the authors point out in this article, the rise in the use of smartphones and general personal technology has been a hot topic in this area of research. In this article, the authors not only focus on some of the possible negative effects of personal technology use on college campuses, but also highlight how the use of technology can aid in the battle against mental health problems in college students.
How did they do it?
The authors reviewed some of the existing literature, focusing on different areas of personal technology use on college campuses. They then separated out their findings into 3 broad categories: proposed negative effects of personal computing technology use on mental health, proposed positive effects of personal computing technology use on mental health, and existing technology-enabled interventions.
What did they find?
One of the topics that was a focus of this article was the use of smartphones. In their literature review, the authors found that around 90% of college-aged Americans own a smartphone that they engage with an average of 80 times per day. Smartphones allow college students to be perhaps overly aware of challenges such as social exclusion, while also providing a sort of “information overload” at any given time of day. While many studies note that smartphones foster an environment that lacks face-to-face interaction, some studies have also noted that a higher level of connectivity is formed among peers via the use of smartphones and other types of personal technology.
Relevant to smartphones is the use of social media - social technology that can be essentially accessed anytime, anywhere. The authors point out that social media use among college students has been under intense scrutiny as of late, but given that most studies linking social media use to declining mental health are correlational, the authors propose a different outlook. They found evidence to suggest that Facebook use is only harmful to one's mental health when the user is engaging in a passive viewing of others profiles, as opposed to active engagement with other users. From the information the authors have collected, there is a clear distinction between healthy and unhealthy social media use.
Lastly, the authors discuss the ways in which personal technology use can help expand treatment options and reduce barriers to mental health services via smartphone applications. Many available applications are based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is a promising approach to many of the common mental health challenges faced by college students (anxiety, depression). Also, a large portion of college administrators have already voiced their support for such systems to be implemented into regular school library databases. We encourage you to check out PsyberGuide, which is an online mental health app guide (available at www.psyberguide.org). The website is constantly being updated, and as a bonus (as pointed out by the authors of this article), is free to the public!
What does it all mean (our take)?
We must face it - technology is the current and the future - it is certainly here to stay. So, let’s do everything in our power to ensure that the outcome of increasing technology use is not detrimental. I was astonished by the statistics provided by the authors (90% of college students are smartphone enabled, using their phone on average 80 times per day), and I estimate that these numbers will only continue to rise. This does not need to be a bad thing, as we can and should continue to lean on technology to help learn more about college student populations and subsequently aid us in delivering scalable and effective interventions to those in need.