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Supportive Texts Can Improve College Students’ Mental Health

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Academic pressure, independence from one’s family, separation from social support networks back home, and increased social stress can put millennials and Generation Z college students (18-35 years old in this study) at risk for experiencing anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation. 

One way to decrease this risk? Receiving texts from friends and family.

According to new research from Tara Suwinyattichaiporn, Cal State Fullerton associate professor of human communication studies, college students receiving a check-in text message from a friend or family member may help reduce feelings of isolation and depression.

“It means a lot to receive a supportive text from friends and family, especially during this time of COVID-19 and being more isolated than usual,” said Suwinyattichaiporn, who studied how online social support can affect and potentially improve mental health in college students. The research included 3,727 college students, which had 21% millennials and 79% Gen Zers.

“Just Text Me: Investigating the Effects of Computer-Mediated Social Support on Mental Health Outcomes Among Millennial and Generation Z Populations” was co-authored by Meredith Turner ’18, ’20 (B.A., M.A. human communication studies) and published in the Kentucky Journal of Communication.

Millennials and Gen Z More Likely to Use Online Counseling

Pew Research Center findings indicated that almost every college-aged millennial and Gen Zer in the U.S. owns a smartphone, and on average, sends over 110 messages a day.

“They’re already using this method of communication, so why not use it for good?” questioned Suwinyattichaiporn, who was inspired to conduct this research after noticing the limited number of studies that explore young people’s counseling preferences. 

She found that students are much more likely to use online counseling when they believe the quality will be just as high or higher than face-to-face counseling.

Two popular online counseling services through text are Talkspace and BetterHelp, which offer fully online support and are thus more appealing to young adults than counseling through phone calls or face-to-face. 

Tara Suwinyattichaiporn
Tara Suwinyattichaiporn, associate professor of human communication studies

Suwinyattichaiporn noted that “young people felt safe and protected from negative responses when engaging in counseling via texting.” Texting offers more privacy and a lower risk of someone overhearing a personal conversation.

While some people may think online counseling is less personal or less effective, Suwinyattichaiporn points out that “online support is available at all times, while face-to-face support is not.” 

Supportive Texting Reduces Stress and Depression Among Students

College-aged students receiving more social support from their friends and family through texting report feeling less stressed and isolated than those receiving little to no text-based social support. 

While the findings don’t suggest that online social support is enough to be the sole method to prevent feelings of anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation, Suwinyattichaiporn suggests combining online counseling and text messages for better results.

“The main thing I hope people take away from this research is to check in with your friends and family and just be there for them.”

Written by: Alyssa Tornel
Karen Lindell