Understanding youngsters’ preferences of e-mental health: identifying factors motivating young people usage of online mental health services

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The use of online mobile counseling applications is growing in response to the emerging need for mental health support during the pandemic (Wind, Rijkeboer, Andersson, & Riper, 2020). Pre-existing research provides evidence to support the effectiveness of e-mental health services including cognitive behavior and emotion support (Olthuis, Watt, Bailey, Hayden, & Stewart, 2016; Marshall et al., 2020) However, it is still unclear what factors contribute to users’ e-mental health experience (Musiat, Goldstone, & Tarrier, 2014). Therefore, this study aims: 1) to understand how young people evaluate e-mental health services, and; 2) to explore the demographic and behavioristic factors that influence young people’s evaluative criteria.

In-depth interviews and surveys were conducted in this study. Twenty-one users of an online mental health support application were interviewed to explore their evaluative criteria to the e-mental health services. Each interview lasted for an hour. The interviewees were aged between 19 and 21. Twenty-eight items were generated from the interviews. These items were then used to design the questionnaire which helps to identify the dimensions for young people to evaluate e-mental health services. We used convenience sampling to recruit 1395 participants. 295 participants were from a medium-size university and there were 651 junior secondary students and 449 senior secondary students from two local secondary schools. They aged between 12 to 25.

By using an exploratory factor analysis, five dimensions used by young people to evaluate e-mental health services were identified. These five dimensions are 1) service usability; 2) transparency of service provider; 3) professional counselling; 4) privacy of users; and 5) online communication skills of counsellor. The above results suggest that the conventional evaluative criteria for mental health service are still valid in online environment. Young people expect that e-mental health services should possess transparency in disclosing information of service provider with professional qualifications; while on the other hand the privacy of users should be well-protected. Regarding the online environment, young people prefers mobile service that can overcome time and geographic constraints, and online communication skills of counsellor were essential to motivate youngsters to keep using the service.

On the other hand, we also found that gender and the time used in social media has influenced the above dimensions. The results suggested that female users concern more about the transparency of service provider, professional counselling, and privacy of users than the male users. At the same time, if users spend more time on social media, they have higher expectations on online communication skills of the counselor of e-mental health services. The implications for the result findings. The results of this study will inform e-mental health service providers regarding the features of e-mental health service platforms they should develop and improve in the future.

Marshall, J. M., Dunstan, D. A., & Bartik, W. (2020). The role of digital mental health resources to treat trauma symptoms in Australia during COVID-19. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 12(S1). https://doi.org/10.1037/tra0000627
Musiat, P., Goldstone, P., & Tarrier, N. (2014). Understanding the acceptability of e-mental health--attitudes and expectations towards computerised self-help treatments for mental health problems. BMC psychiatry, 14, 109. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-244X-14-109
Olthuis, J. V., Watt, M. C., Bailey, K., Hayden, J. A., & Stewart, S. H. (2016). Therapist-supported internet cognitive behavioural therapy for anxiety disorders in adults. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2016(3). https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.cd011565.pub2
Wind, T. R., Rijkeboer, M., Andersson, G., & Riper, H. (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic: The ‘Black Swan’ for mental health care and a turning point for e-health. Internet Interventions, 20, 100317. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.invent.2020.100317
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jul 2023
EventInternational Association for Media and Communication Research Conference (IAMCR 2023) - Lyon, France
Duration: 9 Jul 202313 Jul 2023
https://iamcr.org/lyon2023 (Conference website)
https://iamcr.box.com/shared/static/9b90ygc8xy5nw3golzyb20r05qnx353n.pdf (Conference programme)


ConferenceInternational Association for Media and Communication Research Conference (IAMCR 2023)
OtherInhabiting the planet: Challenges for media, communication and beyond
Internet address


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