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Email Not That Effective with College Depression

Email Not That Effective with College DepressionI’m always on the lookout for how technology can better help people with mental health issues. But some uses of technology leave me scratching my head. Take, for instance, this one:

If you email a depression assessment quiz to college students, some will take it. Some of those who take it will have depression.

Those are the astounding findings from a research study presented the other day at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

But few of the students who received the email at four different colleges bothered taking the quiz — only 691 students — suggesting that it remains an ineffective way of reaching students (except those who may already believe they have or may be at risk for depression).

Worse yet, the email quiz did nothing to encourage students to seek out treatment for depression

But few students who screened positive for depression with the Patient Health Questionnaire 9-Item (PHQ-9) actually used the online educational resources or on-campus peer health support groups provided in the e-mail. […]

[Researchers] said that only seven of them used the online health information resource links, and just one attended on-campus counseling groups [out of 82 students identified with depression].

So the take away seems to be that some students will take a depression quiz emailed to them. But even after being given a followup email about depression treatment resources available to them on their campus, few students make use of such resources. What started out as a possibly-interesting approach to help reach students falls flat.

The researchers seemed to have used a buckshot, population-based approach. Previous research has suggested that we have some ideas about what kind of people are at most risk for depression — previous episodes of depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder (and a few other things); family history of depression (including parents); and socio-economic status. It’s a wonder the researchers didn’t try to better target their approach using some of these factors.

If you want to reach students, I suspect you also need to be where they are — less on email, and more on Facebook, Twitter, Skype and their iPhones. Or in their face.

Then you have to provide more personalized followup rather than just sending them some links or additional depression information. I suspect if they had received in-person visits or even just a telephone call, researchers would have seen a higher rate of students who sought out treatment.

I’m all for the use of technology to help improve access to mental health information and treatment (obviously!). But a study like this leaves me scratching my head saying, “That’s it?” Technology has so much potential, but only when it is harnessed and targeted appropriately.

Read the full article: E-mail Catches Some Cases of College Depression

Email Not That Effective with College Depression

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.

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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). Email Not That Effective with College Depression. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
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Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 26 May 2010)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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