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Supportive Texts Can Improve College Students’ Mental Health

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New research shows college students receiving a check-in text message from a friend or family member are more likely to thrive away from home.

The supportive texts can help reduce feelings of isolation and depression, says Tara Suwinyattichaiporn (Dr. Tara), Cal State Fullerton associate professor of human communication studies.

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. 

“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,” says 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. Suwinyattichaiporn and Turner studied this trend because almost every college-aged millennial and Gen Zer in the U.S. own a smartphone, and on average, sends over 110 messages a day, according to Pew Center research.

Suwinyattichaiporn’s research shows:

  • College-aged students supported by friends and family through texting report feeling less stressed and isolated than those receiving little to no text-based social support. 
  • Students thrive when social support is combined with counseling.
  • 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.

“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,” she says.