Healthy Minds Creators Unveil mHealth Resource for College Students

The developers of the Healthy Minds Network at the University of Michigan have unveiled Sage, an mHealth platform designed to give college students on on-demand link to mental health education and resources.

By Eric Wicklund

May 28, 2019 – The creators of an annual national survey assessing mental health among college students are rolling out an mHealth tool aimed at giving them on-demand resources.

The digital health platform, called Sage, is designed to provide online education and support to students identified through the Healthy Minds Network as needing those resources. It was developed by Daniel Eisenberg, PhD, a Professor of Health Management and Policy and a Faculty Associate at the Population Studies Center of the University of Michigan, and Sarah Ketchen Lipson, formerly of the U-M School of Public Health and now at the Boston University School of Public Health.

Eisenberg and Lipson created the Healthy Minds Network in 2007. Since then, the annual Healthy Minds Study has been fielded at more than 180 colleges and universities around the country, with more than 300,000 survey respondents.

“After students complete the Healthy Minds survey, they are invited to click on a link to the Sage site,” Eisenberg said in a recent press release. “There, they are shown a curated list of mental health-related resources. The resource list is tailored based on the students’ characteristics and apparent needs.”

The mobile health tool is one of several mHealth and telehealth projects aimed at giving students on-demand access to mental health resources when and where they need help.

Eisenberg is also participating in a research study launched by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis to analyze the effectiveness of an mHealth platform for treating clinical depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

Funded by a five-year, $3.8 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the study is expected to draw in some 8,000 students from 20 colleges and universities across the country and will use an mHealth platform developed by Boston-based SilverCloud Health, including a mobile health app, to deliver both self-directed and assisted care management tools.

“Not enough services are available to meet the mental health needs of students on college campuses,” lead researcher Denise E. Wilfley, PhD, the Scott Rudolph University Professor of Psychiatry and Director of the Washington University Center for Healthy Weight and Wellness, said. “We’ve been in contact with many counseling centers on a number of college campuses, and they tell us that increasing numbers of students are struggling with many more problems, including severe problems, and counselors just can’t see them all. Without timely interventions, these problems can have lasting effects on students’ health, social, educational and economic outcomes.”

That, says Eisenberg, is what Sage aims to do.

“Mental health is clearly one of the most important and challenging issues in college student populations,” he said in the press release. “It’s both a problem and an opportunity: there are lots of ways that campuses can and are addressing student mental health, and our hope is that Sage will join the growing list of effective strategies.”

Eisenberg said the resource was first rolled out on a trial basis to U-M students who completed the Healthy Minds Survey, and about half accessed the tool.

“For example, if a student indicates symptoms of severe depression, the suggested resource list would first display mental health services such as CAPS (U-M’s Counseling and Psychological Services) and a suicide prevention hotline,” he explained. “If a student does not indicate any particular mental health struggles, the list would emphasize general wellness resources such as mindfulness and meditation apps. Students can also indicate on the site which types of resources they would like to browse, such as online versus in-person.”

Eisenberg said the platform is strictly educational at present, but could be enhanced with social tools in the future, such as a feature that displays de-identified user reviews of the resources.