Mental Health and Wellbeing: Converging HCI with Human Informatics in Higher Education

By McKay, Elspeth; Martin, Jennifer | Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology, Annual 2010 | Go to article overview

Mental Health and Wellbeing: Converging HCI with Human Informatics in Higher Education


McKay, Elspeth, Martin, Jennifer, Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology


Introduction

The primary aim of this position paper is to generate discussion on how best to meet the demand for more flexibility in our attitudes towards the use of adaptive instructional strategies as appropriate interventions for people with mental health issues. We argue that ICT provides opportunities for students with mental health difficulties to remain engaged in their studies during times of mental illness. We provide specific examples of how this can be achieved through effective HCI, keeping in mind the importance of remaining connected to their peers and in particular the importance of maintaining their sense of belonging to an online community for those who are not able to attend regular classes due to mental illness (Harris, 2009). These same instructional access principles of course apply to people with a physical illness or for those who have other reasons for not being able to attend scheduled on-campus classes. However the focus of this paper is on students with mental illness due to the poor outcomes of this group in terms of completion rates in higher education. Under achievement is particularly concerning given the increased numbers of students with mental illness who are enrolled in higher education (Martin & Oswin, 2008). This paper identifies a range of factors that are essential for supporting students with mental illness to optimize their chances of success. We combine mental health and HCI to argue for the need to design appropriate instructional ICT strategies to support students experiencing mental illness to remain engaged with their studies. The next section considers mental health and higher education in particular, access and equity, disclosure and stigma. We finish the paper with a discussion of principles for sound instructional design.

Background

The new millennium brought with it a plethora of opportunities. This phenomenon was not lost in the educational technology field. Swept up with this emerging technological enthusiasm, many learning institutions set about implementing ubiquitous online learning policies (Anderson & Elloumi, 2004). Until this point there has been scant attention given to investigating the effectiveness of computer aided instruction and mental illness, particularly within learning institutions (Martin, McKay, & Thomas, 2004). The first onset of mental illness can occur at any age however it is most prevalent amongst young people, with three quarters of first diagnoses occurring between the ages of 16 and 25 (Mcgivern, Pellerito, & Mowbray, 2003). This is the time when young people are likely to be considering, or embarking upon, post secondary education programs. A person may have a pre-existing mental health condition or they may experience stress that can trigger a first episode of mental illness. The nature of the educational studies may generate stress that can lead to mental health difficulties. These mental health conditions will vary and include functional psychosis, mood disorders, personality disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and organic disorders (DSM). A recent study of higher education students experiencing mental health difficulties during their studies found that many students had more than one psychiatric diagnosis as well as membership in multiple 'equity groups' (Martin & Oswin, 2008).

The incidence of mental health problems amongst university students is steadily increasing with estimates of between 10 to 20 per cent (Collins & Mowbray, 2005). Of particular concern are reports that these students have lower completion rates than all other disability groups (Cavallaro, Foley, Saunders, & Bowman, 2005; Moisey, 2004). It is likely that students with mental health problems experience other forms of disadvantage. Students can experience a cumulative impact due to membership of more than one equity group such as: low socio-economic status, indigenous or non-English speaking background, rural and remote or other disability. …

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