How much does environment affect whether or not freshmen seek mental health support?

Cornell University
Ithaca, New York
DOI: 10.18258/9847
Raised of $1,680 Goal
Funded on 9/15/17
Successfully Funded
  • $2,125
  • 126%
  • Funded
    on 9/15/17

About This Project

How and where messages are delivered can be as important as the message itself. For messages about depression, how and where messages are delivered can be critical to whether or not the student seeks help. We hypothesize that when a mental health message is related to students' anxiety and is featured in a noisy environment, students will be more likely to process and absorb the message. We will test this hypothesis with 240 freshmen. Data and results will be shared openly with funders.

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What is the context of this research?

44% of college students in the U.S. report symptoms of depression. While young adults aged 18-29 are more likely to suffer from depression than most other age groups, they are the most reluctant to seek professional psychiatric help, creating a significant barrier for early detection, often resulting in poor treatment outcomes. While depression symptoms are often transient and may be dismissed due to common stress, it is critical for colleges to provide well-designed and targeted psychiatric help-seeking information to raise awareness of depression, and encourage students to seek professional psychiatric health when necessary.

What is the significance of this project?

An improved understanding of the influence of environmental and psychological attributes may allow practitioners to design more effective physical environments for the delivery of health messages targeted at students. Also, an improved understanding of the effects of message content (i.e., anxiety-relatedness) suggests that communicators should consider the anxiety associated with a health issue when constructing health messages promoting help-seeking behaviors and/or construct messages that encourage students to seek appropriate help by considering the existing environmental condition (e.g., a low- versus high-noise space).

What are the goals of the project?

The study will be conducted from October 15, 2017 to May 15, 2018, in a simulated setting. Subjects will be asked to be seated in the simulated study area and will be told to complete a personality test which takes approximately 30 minutes. In this time, subjects will be exposed to the noise condition (students talking sound effect at 30 dB or 75 dB) and the message condition (poster featuring anxiety-unrelated/anxiety-related psychiatric help seeking information). No special measure will be used to direct subjects’ attention to the psychiatric help-seeking message. After 30 minutes, subjects will fill out a survey which assesses their general anxiety and psychiatric help-seeking intentions. Each study session will be approximately 45 minutes.


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25% of college students in the U.S. suffer from some mental or mood disorder, including depression. Additionally, 44% of college students in the U.S. report symptoms of depression, with freshmen of most concern. For this research, we will recruit a representative sample of 240 freshmen, and we will use slightly modified versions of existing posters urging students to seek mental health help in times of crisis. We will also look at noise conditions that are uniquely found in a college environment (i.e., loud chattering sound among students). Thus, there is great potential for our research findings to apply to various collegiate environments.

Endorsed by

Jeffrey Neo is a very focused and dedicated researcher. The results of this project will inform the design of mental and behavioral health environments and support the wellness of students.

Project Timeline

Research will be conducted between October 15, 2017 to May 15, 2018. Each study session will be approximately 45 minutes. A total of 240 sessions will be required.

Aug 30, 2017

Project Launched

May 15, 2018

Complete data collection (240 study sessions)

Jun 15, 2018

Data clean up  

Jul 15, 2018

Data analysis

Aug 15, 2018

Report writing and dissemination

Meet the Team

Jeffrey Neo
Jeffrey Neo
Doctoral Student in Human Behavior and Design
Jeff Niederdeppe
Jeff Niederdeppe
Associate Professor


Department of Communication Cornell University
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Jeffrey Neo

Hi! I am a doctoral student in Human Behavior and Design in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University. I have worked in four countries (Singapore, Hong Kong, India, and the U.S.) for employers and health systems including Cornell, Johns Hopkins, and the Health Sciences Authority of Singapore. I have a special interest in healthcare design research, particularly in evidence-based design. For my doctoral research, I seek to examine and develop new innovative strategies to understand how the interaction between communication, psychological, and environmental design attributes may influence audiences' attention, perception, and behavioral intentions when subjected to health-risk information in healthcare environments. My research philosophy is to incorporate insights and expertise from interdisciplinary fields such as evidence-based design, human factors, communication, bioethics, and psychology, and then to translate this research into both policy and clinical practice to improve patient outcomes in order to generate advances in public health and implementation science. For my scholarly contributions to the field of healthcare design, I was awarded the 2017 Joel Polsky Academic Achievement Award by the American Society of Interior Designers, the 2016 American Academy of Healthcare Interior Designers/Steelcase Fellowship, and the 2015 International Student of the Year and Western New York Scholarship by the International Facility Management Association. I also had the honor to serve as the degree marshal for the Cornell University Graduate School during the University commencement in 2016.

Additional Information

Sound clip of students’ chattering


Project Backers

  • 39Backers
  • 126%Funded
  • $2,125Total Donations
  • $54.49Average Donation
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