Caring for student mental health with EdTech — Observatory

When education focuses on putting students at the center of their learning, concern for their well-being heightens. Each learner faces different personal scenarios such as family issues, financial difficulties, feelings of isolation, social pressure, anxiety or study-related stress. Sometimes it is the teachers who help their students to express their most complex emotions by creating a safe environment so that they can process and understand them. Educational technology can facilitate these advances so that students can continue learning without harming their health.

Social-emotional learning (SEL) guides students in applying social, emotional, attitudinal, and behavioral skills to succeed in their training. This process develops self-knowledge skills essential to their life trajectory. Each student reacts in a unique way in a teaching environment, so understanding their condition helps strengthen interpersonal relationships. One way to integrate SEL into the classroom is to use educational and technological resources for learning.

What support does educational technology provide?

The World Bank states that EdTech (educational technology) enriches teaching by improving the management and delivery of education and can create new human relationships between teachers, students, tutors and communities. Initiatives that use educational technology must apply five principles that maximize participation: having a clear purpose and objectives, reaching all students, empowering teachers, involving a system of partners and using data to effectively consolidate strategies, policies and programs.

Typically, to provide mental health services to their students, educational institutions select an SEL package. However, student needs should be identified first. Teacher Alice Dominguez at Mater Dei Catholic High School in Chula Vista, Calif., uses the example of her students, commenting that the acquisition of these resources generates more burden to comply with its stipulations, so it was essential first to have meaningful discussions on how to lighten the burden and use the exercises that help to relieve it. to manage. She first invites you to assess what works for each course, especially for the students who train there. Sometimes it is sufficient to use case-specific methodologies.

For those who detect that their programs should integrate certain specific applications, there are several options on the market today.

What are we doing in Latin America?

Some EdTech apps for student mental health in Latin America can be downloaded or used on websites. Currently, tools have been created that include:

  • The mobile application Cuida tu ánimo (Take care of your mind) was developed in Chile to facilitate access to tools for rapid intervention and prevention of depression and the risk of suicide among learners aged 15 to 29 years after the effects of the pandemic. The initiative is led by Dr. Vania Martínez, director of the Millennium Nucleus to improve the mental health of adolescents and young people, Imhay. Access is free. Through a questionnaire, the user’s symptoms are assessed; based on their answers, they are directed to a program designed to treat their symptoms.

  • The YOLO web application, derived from Yóllotl, which means “heart” in Nahuátl, was created by the Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health (DPSM) and the Department of Biomedical Informatics (DIB) of the Faculty of Medicine of the ‘Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (UNAM). This virtual emotional assistant helps determine symptoms of depression or anxiety. It provides psychoeducation and mental health strategies through six modules to regulate the emotions of at-risk learners. Students in the institution’s six undergraduate degree programs and postgraduate medical specializations can attend to their mental health.

  • The cross-platform mobile application Cuidándome (Caring for me) from the University of Talca, Chile, allows people to learn how to manage their moods through practices and exercises and to assess their discomforts with a questionnaire. The platform is designed specifically for people with certain symptoms of depression or anxiety. Without the diagnosis, they have no coverage; this way, they can manage what happens to them without increasing symptoms or triggering mental health pathology.

  • The mobile application with artificial intelligence Human Place, developed by researchers at the Universidad Técnica Federico Santa María (USM) in Chile, educates, monitors and helps to reflect on the habits that influence the quality of life. This self-knowledge platform is designed to be used in the morning and evening with planning and meditation practices that calm the mind in the morning and promote gratitude and restful sleep at night. The cognitive assistant can suggest alternatives for people to receive help or decide to be treated by the appropriate health personnel.

  • The Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de México (IBERO) Psychology Department’s SoyBienestar (My Wellbeing) mobile application allows users to self-manage and improve their mental health. By asking mood questions, setting goals, and helping with everyday emotions, the app provides strategic pathways to emotional well-being. Dr. Angélica Ojeda García, project manager, indicated that it is a resource for relearning and consciously modifying certain habits.

  • Four Prepa Tec students in Mexico created the VS Beat Your Thoughts app. The platform, focused on mental health care specifically for depression and anxiety, features a professionally-approved guide with exercises that lead to calm. When crisis management is appropriate, it has the contact details of the specialist.

The research “Mobile applications in mental health: perception and perspectives in Argentina” showed that their population would be willing to integrate new technologies in psychotherapeutic treatments. Moreover, it was concluded that these resources could be an accessible option in different geographical areas, even with a lower level of education, and useful in health centers.

What can educational institutions do?

Schools and teachers can support students and promote mental health care in different ways. Some strategies include designing a multidisciplinary program that integrates subject matter in an inclusive way. Psychoeducation consists of disseminating information about healthy lifestyles, emotional reactions and warning signs; it is relevant for students to know and deal with their emotions. Support through groups or peers is also recommended as a strategy involving the academic field and providing support from others who can recognize other symptoms. Raising awareness and preventing stigma within the classroom helps promote empathy.

The resources put in place most frequently in the wake of the pandemic, such as psychological care lines, emergency assistance and in-person help, have been essential. Likewise, it is crucial to use platforms that have online wellness checks.

Wellness-focused educational institutions boost student motivation and self-confidence, generate a sense of belonging, encourage engagement, and improve indices of academic achievement, retention, and graduation rates.

It is necessary to prioritize mental health and identify tools that help students and add value to their lives, considering that the selected applications have adequate protection of personal data, information on the disposal of the data and the necessary consent of the student. The diversity of options available, their versatility and the creation of new instruments and methodologies can lead to more conscious and human approaches. What educational technologies are you using to inspire mental health care for your students?

Translation by Daniel Wetta

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