College life isn’t all beer pong and football.
The workloads, new environments, complex curriculum, and the demands of regular exams, lab reports, and papers mean it’s actually a rather stressful place for many students.
A 2015 study of the health of college students by the American College Health Association found that more than a third of female respondents and almost 30% of males had within the previous year felt depression so severe it was difficult to function.
Furthermore, more than a quarter of all respondents–and the survey was conducted nationwide–reported they had suffered lower grades and even dropped entire courses due to anxiety and stress.
Those percentages translate to more than 100,000 U.S. college students seeking mental health treatment on campuses across the country each year.
And it is that demand that has led three Texas universities to try a new method of easing the mental strain on their students.
Therapy by Video
Beginning in the fall, Texas A&M University, University of North Texas, and Baylor University will give their students access to online therapists via video conferencing.
Provided by Therapist Assisted Online, the new service will operate alongside existing on-campus facilities, and promises to achieve in 20 minutes of weekly therapist face time what a traditional session does in more than double that duration.
The video conferencing version combines face-to-face video calling with a range of educational modules and a daily log that students will maintain on their own time, and will target people with mild and moderate levels of anxiety.
Provided such a system is effective, there’s an obvious two-fold benefit for those on campus.
Firstly, it helps lower the case burden of on-campus therapists who can instead devote their resources to the students with the most severe symptoms.
It also makes therapy more accessible and less intrusive to students at the mid- to low-end of the spectrum who may otherwise not have sought help. Empowering these students with methods of coping with stress while it is still at a relatively manageable level could also prevent these students from reaching the point where they join that alarming number of people who feel so overwhelmed they can’t function.
Real Support, Virtual Connection
Students will still have to make an in-person visit to a mental health expert before they can be referred on to the online sessions, but once granted access they’d be given a method of support that is less intrusive on their scholastic and personal lives.
For starters, the student need never leave their dorm or home, reducing time spent in transit and leaving them in a comfortable, familiar space. This anonymity from the broader campus public can also help remove any social stigma a student attaches to seeking mental health support.
And it’s more compatible with a crowded calendar of coursework and lectures. Students complete their learning modules in whatever free time they can find, and then meet online once a week for 20 minutes with a therapist who has been monitoring their progress through a shared upload feature in the program.
Through the visual element of video conferencing, therapists are able to read all the body language–like voice tone, eye movements, and posture–that is necessary to get a complete understanding of their patient.
Video Therapy in the Office
Therapist Assisted Online has a whole collection of data onsite to claim their technique is effective, but the real proof will come after it has been tried by real students, on real campuses.
Should the high-speed, online version of mental health therapy prove effective, it could be applied across a range of fields in the future.
Law enforcement and emergency services personnel face some of the most stressful working conditions in the country. Soon, maybe a program could be tailored to their unique needs to help share the burden on existing services. Perhaps video conferencing programs could be made mandatory for all new recruits to help build coping mechanisms.
Mental health support through video conferencing could also be applied to less dramatic environments, such as the humble office building. As the interview section of the program requires just 20 minutes of an employee’s working week to complete, there’s little interruption to workflow. And ongoing support could reduce work time lost to stress and anxiety-related leave (as well as sick leave).
The service could also be tweaked to perform other mental health tasks, such as grief and bereavement counseling, marriage counseling, and children’s services.
In each case you create the potential to improve access to mental health support and empower people to deal with the stress of their everyday lives–in a way that doesn’t create more of that stress.