Researchers study eHealth tools to offer low cost ways to help people cope

More than twenty five percent of Americans experience a diagnosable mental illness every year. But less than half of these individuals receive treatment.

Untreated mental illnesses can lead to a multitude of issues ranging in severity from decreased quality of life to increased risk of suicide. Expanding access to treatment could provide significant benefits to both individual and public health.

According to some mental help professionals, traditional individual psychotherapy in the form of one-hour, in-person weekly sessions is no longer a feasible model of treatment to address all people suffering from a diagnosable mental illness – more than eight million people with mental illness and 188,000 practicing psychologists means there are more than 450 patients per therapist.

A potential solution in the form of new online therapy resources, known as eHealth tools, are being developed where patients can receive intervention via computers or mobile devices.

Presidential Fellows in Data Science Miranda Beltzer and Mawulolo Ameko are investigating these technology-based models by evaluating emotion regulation strategies. Emotional regulation focuses on monitoring the intensity or duration of emotional states; improvements in emotional regulation can decrease the severity of symptoms from mental illness.

The researchers’ goal is to build a program that personalizes emotion regulation coaching for socially anxious individuals. They aim to pinpoint emotion regulation processes as patients deal with difficult emotions in real time, eventually leading to an eHealth tool that gives personalized strategies to individual users.

Beltzer and Ameko will analyze a large data set of adults with elevated social anxiety symptoms over the course of five weeks. The participants will complete daily surveys to monitor their emotional state and how they are attempting to regulate emotions, and the effects of their efforts.

A collaboration between psychology and engineering, this project enables a deeper understanding of the dynamics of emotion regulation in real life, with the potential to create more effective eHealth tools to provide personalized mental health services at a low cost.

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