Engineers from Texas A&M University (TAMU) are taking a proactive approach to the mental health of college students. Researchers in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering are developing a wearable continuous mental health monitoring and self-management app. A 2015 Massachusetts General Hospital study published in Academic Psychiatry documented the prevalence of substance abuse, anxiety, and depression in a wide range of mental health problems common among college students. Unfortunately, the stigma of mental health problems and other factors often prevent students from seeking help. The TAMU project gives students a way to help themselves. Currently in a pilot test at the University, the system is named Mental Health Evaluation and Lookout Program, or mHELP.

The TAMU app combines data from smartwatch heart rate sensors and from student self-reporting with an advanced machine learning model to monitor symptoms and signs of heightened anxiety. When the signals indicate problems, the app sends alerts to the student prompting specific therapeutic actions. The app points students to mobile self-assessments, educational content, and self-management tools. For example, the app may suggest biofeedback work or mindfulness exercises.

The TAMU engineers designed the mHELP to engage students in their own mental health monitoring and to provide accessible tools readily available on mobile platforms. The next steps after the pilot program include extending the reach to additional college campuses to continue the development efforts while providing much-needed support to a vulnerable population.