Social Studies

Reaching Stressed Out College Students Online

College can be stressful, and college students do not always seek or receive help in coping with stress through traditional, in-person mental health services. To help meet students’ mental health needs, UMN Psychology Professor Patricia Frazier has been developing and evaluating online interventions, which she has now tested with over 1000 students at UMN and a local community college.

Dr. Frazier and her colleagues developed an online stress management intervention based on earlier research showing that the amount of control we perceive ourselves to have relates to how we cope with stress. The intervention consists of about an hour of online activities spread out over a few weeks. In a 2015 study of UMN undergraduates, Dr. Frazier found that students who completed the online intervention had greater decreases in stress, depression, and anxiety than students in a comparison group, both immediately after the intervention and at a 3-week follow-up. She has since found similar results in students at Normandale Community College.

Dr. Frazier has also studied who benefits most from this kind of intervention. For students with a history of interpersonal violence (for example, those who have witnessed domestic violence at home), the online intervention is as or more effective at reducing distress than it is for students without this history. According to Dr. Frazier, “by widely disseminating online interventions, colleges and universities can reach these at-risk students without them having to identify as having experienced interpersonal violence.” In research recently presented at the 2017 conference of the Association for Psychological Science, Dr. Frazier and colleagues also found that the online intervention was particularly effective for students with higher initial stress levels. They were able to identify specific initial stress levels at which the intervention became more effective than no intervention, which will allow them to target students who are most likely to benefit in the future.

Photo by Helder C Jr., Flickr CC