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  • Dr Nikki Rickard

    Dr Nikki Rickard

    Academic Director

For any student, undertaking university study can be a significantly challenging experience. Pressing assignments and weekly attendances on top of lifestyle factors, be it family or work, all contribute to the pressure students may feel on their academic journey.

It’s no surprise then, that a study completed by youth mental health foundation, Headspace, reported that 58.5 per cent of tertiary student respondents rated their mental health as fair or poor. On top of this, 96.6 per cent of students said that their studies had been adversely impacted by symptoms of mental health problems. The significant disruption students are currently feeling makes it clearer than ever that developing student resilience is an aspect of university support that cannot be overlooked.

Promoting wellbeing in a digital environment

Given the time students spend studying, and the regular contact between students and their teachers, universities are ideally placed to support students throughout their study journey. But while many on-campus institutions focus their efforts on in-person counselling services, the aforementioned research by Headspace showed that only 27 per cent of student respondents used these services. Digital and mobile technology is beginning to play a significant role in supporting the wellbeing of individuals who might not otherwise seek such support.

Particularly important too, is supporting students to actively manage wellbeing, even when they are not feeling low or worried. Tools to encourage being active, seek support from others, and think about long-term life, career and personal goals are imperative to help students stay focused on studying and reaching graduation rather than caught up in short-term barriers and stressors.

Building self-efficacy in our student cohort

Bringing online education into the frame, unique and innovative solutions are needed to help students develop resilience throughout their study. At OES, we recognised there was an opportunity to support our students better by embedding an online tool called ‘MoodMission’ into the student learning management system, where they do their core learning.

The MoodMission tool was deployed directly into the online space where students learn, ensuring ‘just in time’ support when needed. Not only utilised as a coping tool for students experiencing depression and anxiety, the app is also designed to support positive wellbeing.

To encourage app usage, students are given the option to click on a button in the menu which simply asks them how their feeling. From there, students are asked to rate their mood from four options and depending on the selected mood the tool draws from a large database of short ‘missions’.

Example missions include asking students to imagine their best possible self to encourage reflection on how studying will help them achieve their goals, or consider who or what they feel connected to and why that motivates them. Missions are varied and might involve emotional, cognitive, physical or behavioural coping strategies – all of which are evidence-based.

Using the tool helps students build self-efficacy in coping with their feelings, and build confidence that they have the skills and resources to manage stress and continue with their study.

As online media becomes increasingly important for the deployment of mental health support, innovative solutions in this space will become more commonplace. While there has certainly been a rise in the number of apps which offer to improve wellbeing, applications that are validated by scientific research, like MoodMission and the mindfulness app Smiling Mind, remain few and far between.

Moving forward, evidenced-based applications embedded into university learning management systems will be an important tool to complement established mental health resources for higher education providers and deliver support to students where and when it is needed.

MoodMission is available in the app store for download.