Why do young people embrace e-mental health? A qualitative study of service users in Hong Kong

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In recent years, mental health intervention via electronic and mobile platform has been increasingly available for depression and anxiety, and other mental health issues (e.g. Beintner, Jacobi, & Taylor, 2012). The Covid-19 pandemic has made such online psycho-therapy and other online interventions more important than ever while many cities has been locked down, and many people experience quarantine. Isolation may lead to disrupt in psychological health. The lock down measures also interrupted current psychological therapies. E-mental health offers a wide range of opportunities to overcome conventional emotional support and psychological therapy.

Despite the fact that there is an increasingly evidence base for the positive effect of e-mental health service, it is still unclear what factors influence individual’s decision on using such online intervention (Musiat, Goldstone, & Tarrier, 2014). While mental health intervention involves reciprocal communication between the care-seeker and the mental care professional, it is essential to establish trust between the care-seeker and the service provider. This study aims to examine what factors contribute to the development of trust in e-mental health service among the young users. We interviewed 22 young people aged between 18 and 25, who has used e-counselling service app available in the market. They were asked to evaluate their usage experience and the following factors were identified as essential to establish trust in e-mental health service: the perceived credibility of service provider, the feedback quality, anonymity, and autonomy in mode of communication.

The participants in the interview suggested that they have a higher level of trust towards the service if it is provided by renowned and credible organization. On the other hand, the feedback quality reflects the service quality. For example, if the counsellors are capable to provide feedback online within a reasonable time and to demonstrate empathy through the online responses, the young users put more trust in the service and are more willing to reveal their information.

The mobile app features also contribute to the development of trust in e-mental health service. The participants revealed that it is important to keep their identity confidential to the counsellors in e-mental health service, since they afraid that their secrets could be leaked out easily on e-platform. At the same time, the e-mental health service should allow the users to choose their preferred mode of communication, i.e. text, audio messaging or video conferencing. Some participants suggest that they feel more comfortable to express themselves in text, especially when they share sensitive issues in e-mental health platform. They also treasure the flexible time and venue in using e-mental health service. To compare with conventional face-to-face counselling, participants expect a higher autonomy in mode of communication.


Beintner, I., Jacobi, C., & Taylor, C. B. (2012). Effects of an Internet-based prevention programme for eating disorders in the USA and Germany--a meta-analytic review. European eating disorders review : the journal of the Eating Disorders Association, 20(1), 1–8. https://doi.org/10.1002/erv.1130

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

Richards, D., & Richardson, T. (2012). Computer-based psychological treatments for depression: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical psychology review, 32(4), 329–342. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2012.02.004


ConferenceInternational Association for Media and Communication Research Conference (IAMCR 2021) - Rethinking borders and boundaries: Beyond the global/local dichotomy in communication studies
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