Devices, social media and the internet are everywhere we look in today’s society. Smart phones and devices have replaced our watches, alarm clocks, cameras, calculators and pen and paper to a certain extent. Close to 95% of New Zealanders have internet access, almost 90% of New Zealanders (over 13 years old) are social media users and research tells us that we are choosing to use our smartphones over other devices more and more each year. This tells us that, for the most part, digital technologies are accessible or increasingly accessible to most New Zealanders. So how do we make the most of this and enhance digital technologies for good?
Digital technology allows for greater flexibility and can create ease of access to resources. We have seen this first-hand through the pandemic where students have been able to continue to engage in education whilst in lockdown - albeit with some challenges - but without technology education would have been put on hold or pressured to return before it was safe.
Research shows us that digital technology can successfully be used to assess, monitor and support interventions when it comes to wellbeing and mental health. What we are talking about here is, using devices for monitoring through surveys or questionnaires that are completed electronically by young people. Using technology in this way results in easy-to-administer, cost and time effective processes. Another benefit to using technology in this way is that we know that students are more engaged and able to be open and honest when completing online surveys when compared to paper based surveys. From an intervention perspective, we are talking about apps, and interactive games that provide therapy activities, psycho-education and reflections. These could be mindfulness or gratitude based, cognitive behaviour therapy, mood trackers, strength trackers or dialectical behaviour therapy skills. Students report that they are more likely to engage in digital interventions because of reduced stigma, greater autonomy and familiarity. When we look at the research evidence, there are a collection of studies which show that digital interventions can be beneficial for students struggling with self-harm, emotion regulation, anxiety, depression, social skills and decreasing the use of recreational drugs.
It is not just GPs and therapists that can make the most of this technology, schools and educators can too. Research shows us that schools can use digital technology to monitor and assess student wellbeing which leads to the delivery of more accurate and better-timed interventions. So how is your school using digital technology to support student wellbeing and mental health? If you would like to explore this further check out www.komodowellbeing.com.
So how do we make the most of this digital technology that is at New Zealanders’ fingertips?
Research shows us that using digital technology to assess and/or monitor student wellbeing and mental health is cost and time effective and allows students to open up on a familiar medium. Students reportedly prefer to use digital technology for data collection of this kind because of the ease of use, discrete nature and a sense of increased autonomy.
Research also shows us that we can use digital technology to deliver timely interventions to enhance student wellbeing and mental health. Homegrown NZ research on the SPARX programme in particular shows us that digital interventions can improve depression, anxiety and quality of life scales and remission of symptoms can be improved if this is followed up with short term person-to-person sessions.
Best results suggest a combined approach of using technology and human interaction and support for sustained change in depression, anxiety and quality of life scores.
If everyone is using it, why not make the most of it. Learning how to combine digital technology alongside in-person pastoral care support may just be a turning point for student wellbeing and mental health support.
It’s time to get creative and get digital.
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