How can technology support healthy young minds?

Posted on: October 10, 2018 by Neil Hollins

With one in four of us expected to experience a mental health problem every year, the annual World Mental Health Day on 10 October is important in raising awareness of mental health issues and solutions worldwide. This year's theme is ‘young people and mental health in a changing world’.

According to research[1], almost five times as many students as 10 years ago have disclosed a mental health condition to their university. This is, perhaps, not surprising given the stresses of modern life and the changes that young people go through that can lead to extra pressure, anxiety or feelings of isolation – wherever a student is based.

Educational institutions have a key role to play in helping to relieve experiences which, if not recognized and managed, can lead to mental illness. In the UK, for example, the Government is tasking universities to ‘dramatically improve’ emotional support for students, with recognition and reward for institutions who make mental health a priority and improve mental health and wellbeing outcomes.

How digital technologies can help

Modern technologies can make a real difference by providing ways to communicate with, monitor and support people who may otherwise feel unable or unwilling to share their feelings and concerns.

Creating a Student Engagement Center is one way of harnessing easily customizable technology to offer a more proactive, efficient and holistic approach, resourced by a Student Engagement team. The following functionality, connected and integrated through a single omni-channel hub, will help students at every stage of their journey through education.

  • Admissions. Using Customer Relationship Management tools, this provides an easy-to-use, robust and secure way of collecting and storing student information when they register, including details of a person they would want to be contacted should they need help from a loved one.
  • Monitoring. Attendance information can be recorded through radio frequency identification (RFID) readers in lecture theatres, or beacons to identify the presence of students’ mobile devices; attainment information is recorded in Learning Management Systems. By combining this data and applying analytics and artificial intelligence, early signs can be spotted, such as non-attendance at lectures or grades starting to fall.
  • Communicating: An omni-channel contact center enables interactions via social media, text, call, video or email. Digital collaboration tools can be used in real time to bring a specialist (such as a counsellor), securely and confidentially into the conversation. Early identification and support can avoid small issues becoming major concerns. A simple ‘good morning, how are you?’ can make all the difference to someone feeling isolated and alone. If the situation is more serious, the Student Engagement team can contact the person the student chose when they registered.
  • Managing. The Student Engagement team can provide regular confidential reviews and support, maintaining the dialogue that blends the student’s favored communication channels (for example, a text results in a call, followed by a screen-share to show hints and tips on the university website). These are just some of the ways in which readily available integrated digital technologies can enable universities to offer more personalized and rounded support. This promotes students’ wellbeing and gives them a rewarding, fun and successful experience of education, wherever they choose to learn.

[1] Latest figures, from 2015-16, show that over 15,000 UK-based first-year students disclosed mental health issues; in 2006 the figure was around 3,000 (Institute of Public Policy Research).

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About Neil Hollins
Head of Education for the UK and Ireland at Unify (Atos Collaboration Solutions)
Neil is Head of Education for the UK and Ireland at Unify (Atos Collaboration Solutions). Neil works with Universities, Colleges and Schools to help them to deliver improved outcomes by maximising communication and collaboration tools and techniques. Neil has over 25 year experience in the Government, IT Services, BPO and Professional Services areas. Neil is part of the Unify team, which is one of the world’s leading communications software and services firms, providing integrated communications solutions. Neil applies our solutions, including our leading collaboration tool ("Circuit") to unify multiple networks, devices and applications into one easy-to-use platform that allows students, staff and teams to engage in rich and meaningful conversations. Neil is a member of Mind, the UK charity dedicated to raising awareness and providing support for people suffering mental health problems.

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