Improving the Mental Health of College Students: A Study on HearMe

Photo by Naassom Azevedo on Unsplash

The mental health crisis is a growing problem among university students in the U.S. One in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have a diagnosable mental illness, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this crisis, with 9 out of 10 students in college reporting negative mental health symptoms. As students return to campus this fall and the Delta variant continues to spread across the country, potentially impacting a return to normal, access to adequate mental health support will be essential.

To address the mental health crisis, U.S. higher education institutions offer formal mental health support — however, many colleges are either overextended with limited resources to meet the growing needs of students, or services are underutilized due to challenges including stigma and students’ lack of time. In fact, only about 10–15% of students ever seek the help of their college counseling centers, and as a result, mental health services are failing to reach the majority of students in need.

Experts advise that it is imperative for universities to address these issues and engage in a manner that is proactive, holistic and innovative. Some also emphasize that universities should set up a system that fosters wellness through early prevention, coping and resilience rather than being limited to crisis management.

Study on HearMe

To help students thrive, universities must strengthen mental health support networks, and peer-to-peer support is quickly becoming a critical and scalable solution for student wellness and resiliency. Technology, including apps like HearMe, can help enable easy access to this proven program.

In the Spring of 2021, researchers at the University of Mississippi (UMiss) and University of Minnesota (UMN) launched a study to explore the merits of using HearMe to improve student mental health. Led by Professor Graham Bodie of UMiss and Professor Susanne Jones of UMN, the study examined the experiences of students while using HearMe, analyzing whether students who interacted with listeners reported improved mental or emotional well-being as well as overall satisfaction using the app.

As part of the study, students were invited to download HearMe and initiate conversations with a listener through a dedicated channel on the app during the Spring 2021 semester. Following their conversations, they were asked to complete a short online survey. The survey focused on students’ level of stress, conversational assessment, emotional improvement, and listener assessment.

Key findings of the semester-long study identified that:

  • Most participants felt better/more optimistic after their conversation
  • Most participants felt provider text messages were sensitive, helpful and supportive
  • Most participants strongly agree that listeners were competent, effective and appropriate

The findings of the study illustrate the benefits of using HearMe to address mental health challenges among college students. The principal investigator of the study, Professor Graham Bodie notes that this is an encouraging step forward to opening doors to a comprehensive study in determining the full benefits of the app on a larger scale. “We know that students thrive in an environment where they can get regular human connection and empathy”, said Professor Bodie. “HearMe’s text-based app has the potential to provide that, offering a scalable solution to the increasing student mental health crisis.”

Technology is proving that it can step in to alleviate some of the challenges of mental health that are not being addressed by the existing mental healthcare system, and this study suggests that mental health apps have the potential to be accessible, affordable, and helpful to students. We’ll continue to improve and expand access to our app to ensure that students everywhere can benefit from using HearMe.