iWellness Study

Evaluating the effectiveness of a mobile app for students seeking mental health care at Harvard University Health Services
 

Lead Study Team

  • Leslie Tarver, MD MPH, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital; Lead Investigator
  • Vikram Patel, MD, PhD Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Co-investigator
  • Paul Barreira, MD, Faculty Sponsor, Co-investigator
  • John Naslund, PhD Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Co-investigator
  • Barbara Lewis, MD, Harvard University Health Services, Faculty Co-sponsor
  • Cindy Chwa, MPH candidate, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Research Assistant
  • Allina Chang, MPH candidate, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Research Assistant

Funder: The Pershing Square Fund for Research on the Foundations of Human Behavior.

After conducting a pilot study to test the feasibility and acceptability of a mobile mental health app to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety for students at Harvard University, this study aims to evaluate through a full trial the effectiveness of utilizing a mobile mental health app to improve symptoms of depression and anxiety for students. In our pilot study we limited recruitment to students waiting for an appointment at the Harvard University Counseling Service. One of the limitations of the pilot study was the challenge of recruiting a significant population of students to the study utilizing only a digital enrollment strategy and limiting students to those seeking care at HUHS. In the full trial, we will broaden enrollment to include students seeking care at HUHS as well as students who complete a mental health screening as part of a campus-wide graduate student screening initiative, but who may not yet have sought care at HUHS.

In addition, in the full trial we will explore the potential mechanism of action through which the mobile app intervention may contribute to improvement in depression and anxiety among students. This will involve exploring possible mediators such as change in perceived social support. We will also explore possible moderators of the effect, such as students’ demographic characteristics, extracurricular engagement and degree of usage of the mobile app.


This study will also help provide understanding of how a mobile app tool can be used to improve access to care for students in need of services who are not yet seeking an appointment. This study will make a significant and novel contribution to research in college mental health by shedding light on the utility and effectiveness of mobile mental health applications in the college student population as well as potentially uncover the mechanism of action by which this new digital delivery tool effects mental health symptoms. We propose to address the following aims:

  • Aim 1: Evaluate the effectiveness of a mobile mental health app at reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety in students (ages 18 and over) waiting for an appointment at Harvard University Health Services.
  • Aim 2: Evaluate the effectiveness of a mobile mental health app at reducing symptoms of depression and anxiety in graduate students who have performed a mental health screening but who may not be engaged in any mental health treatment.