UM, NYU Shanghai launch app to boost students’ mental health

A mobile application to monitor users’ mental health was recently launched to provide reliable and effective self-help to its users.
Aimed at university students, the ‘Step by Step’ app was jointly developed by the University of Macau (UM) and New York University Shanghai (NYU Shanghai), and is currently being trialed.
One of the scholars behind the app, Dr Brian J. Hall, is an academic in global public health and clinical psychology now at NYU Shanghai, formerly at UM. He says Macau needs improved training to develop its mental health supports.
With a series of deaths by suicide taking place in Macau over the past couple of years, the government and several non-government organizations have commenced work to improve mental health and related supports.
Between January and September, Macau recorded a total of 38 deaths by suicide, a 30.9% decrease from the previous year. In 2020, the city’s total number of suicide deaths was 65.
For Hall, there is more that society can do about this issue.
In an interview with the Times, the academic emphasized that there is no clinical psychology training at master’s level available in Macau.
In developed regions, in order to practice what is referred to as psychotherapy in Macau an individual must possess at least a master’s degree in clinical psychology, the discipline that focuses on supporting people in a clinical setting.
Pursuant to Executive Regulation No. 23/2021, registrants in psychotherapy in Macau must possess a master’s degree in clinical psychology. “That’s usually a minimum credential to enter the field,” says Hall. However, the situation in Macau is a little tricky because “no [master’s] program is offered in Macau.”
“Currently there are no clinical psychology training programs in Macau,” says the scholar, a scenario he finds “problematic.”
“There are so many universities in Macau, [so] why can’t this critical need be addressed?” he asked. “People have to leave Macau to seek training and that training may or may not be appropriate for the Macau setting – [there may be] language and cultural differences, for example.”
In addition to commencing the provision of master’s level programs in clinical psychology, the academic suggests that the city should also improve the delivery of evidence-based care by training specialists.
According to a statement from the UM, most people experiencing mental health issues fail to receive timely and appropriate psychological intervention, which may be due to inadequate resources in the health care system, a lack of access to appropriate channels of assistance, or a lack of understanding or fear of discrimination in the community.
To fill the gaps in existing mental health services, the World Health Organization (WHO) created an e-mental-health mobile app in 2017, intending to trial its use worldwide once it could be adapted to suit different languages and cultures.
Last week, on the sidelines of the launching ceremony of the mental support app, Elvo Sou, head of the Student Counselling Section of the Student Affairs Office at UM, said that the average age of individuals suffering from mental health issues has been dropping during the past few years.
“The trend of persons suffering from mental illnesses at a younger age is global,” Sou said in a TDM report. “Everyone is facing stress – including young people [and] students of [all education levels] – they need more support mentally.”
Sou hopes that this program can provide an additional channel for people to find support, and that the results from this research can be applied to different communities.
The app allows users to access evidence-based e-mental-health interventions to improve their mental well-being and learn about available services and resources at their convenience.
The UM-NYU Shanghai research team will recruit university students to join an eight-week training program using the app. Participants will be evaluated twice, in the eighth week of the program and three months after completing the program, in order to collect data for evaluating and improving the app.

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