Supportive Accountability Advising / SAMMY-A

Can academic advisors, trained to provide virtual Wellness Coaching (specifically, supportive accountability for students’ self-guided use of mental health apps), help to improve at-risk students’ well-being and academic performance?

Project Summary

Despite high mental health needs, only about 30% of college students annually seek mental health services. Whereas students cite many barriers against seeking face-to-face mental health services, mental health technologies, such as mental health apps (MHapps), provide a comfortable and easy-to-use platform for many college students. Research has demonstrated benefits of evidence-based MHapps to reduce depression, anxiety, and stress, yet in the absence of coaching and support, MHapps often are plagued by low engagement and high attrition. In contrast, human support or coaching, whether by mental health professionals or paraprofessionals, boosts app engagement and benefits. Namely, through supportive accountability, including regular check-ins and monitoring of user engagement, “human support increases adherence through accountability to a coach who is seen as trustworthy, benevolent, and having expertise.” The combination of MHapps and supportive accountability provided by higher-education paraprofessionals — a form of Wellness Coaching — offers a highly accessible, cost-effective, and scalable way to address student well-being, and in turn, their academic engagement, performance, and persistence.

The SAMMY-A (Supportive Accountability Methods for Mentoring Young Adults) feasibility and acceptability trial evaluated a novel Wellness Coaching intervention, embedding mobile-technology-delivered mental health promotion through routine student academic services. This project aimed to improve student well-being and in turn educational engagement, persistence, and attainment, with a particular focus on high-risk students at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Specifically, academic advisors, who routinely see student distress impacting academic success, leveraged their advising relationships, along with COVID-crucial technology, to provide supportive accountability for advisees using mental health apps (MHapps), thus promoting students’ well-being and academic outcomes. Advisors coached advisees through MentorHub, an app integrating brief wellness check-ins, targeted recommendations for evidence-based MHapps, and a supportive accountability dashboard facilitating advisors’ messages to promote student engagement in and adherence to MHapps. We are in the process of evaluating mental health and academic outcomes, and moderators/mediators of intervention benefits including demographics, app engagement, supportive accountability, and baseline attitudes toward mental health and MHapps.