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Texas A&M Students Use Wearables to Track Stress, Mental Health

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Monday, August 23, 2021   

COLLEGE STATION, Texas - The pandemic upended normal college life causing mental-health challenges that are now being studied at Texas A&M University for their prevalence and severity.

Students participating in a research project have been fitted with a smartwatch, or what researchers call a "wearable continuous monitoring tool."

Assistant Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering Farzan Sasangohar is part of the Texas A&M research team that designed and developed m-HELP (Mental Health Evaluation and Lookout) - to investigate the effectiveness of using a combination of wearable sensors, mobile health and machine learning to monitor students' mental health.

"Students loved it," said Sasangohar. "They love that this tool is very discreet - doesn't shout 'mental health support.' It's just a smartwatch that sits on any off-the-shelf product."

He said the tools help detect mental-health anomalies, and equip users with therapeutic and self-assessment tools on mobile health platforms. He added the program is based partly on research gleaned from monitoring veterans' mental health.

The Texas A&M team surveyed 2,000 students about their mental health and interviewed 200, and researchers noted heightened mental-health issues attributed to the pandemic.

Sasangohor said they had no problem finding students to talk with. He said he feels issues of mental health were major problems before COVID, made worse for students since the social life they anticipated on campus has been restricted.

"I really think the future of mental health is self-management," said Sasangohar. "I think the stigma associated with mental health is the main reason why people are not reaching out for help."

The survey found about 70% of students reported heightened levels of stress and anxiety, and more than 90% expressed fear and worry about their own health and the health of their loved ones.




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