Mental health and substance use disorders are the main causes of disability among adolescents and young adults yet fewer than half experiencing these problems seek professional help. Young people frequently search the Web for health information and services, suggesting that Web-based modalities might promote help-seeking among young people who need it. To support young people in their help-seeking, we developed a Web-based mental health service navigation website called Link. Link is based on the Theory of Planned Behavior and connects young people with treatment based on the type and severity of mental health symptoms that they report.
The study aimed to investigate the effect of Link on young people’s positive affect (PA) compared with usual help-seeking strategies immediately post intervention. Secondary objectives included testing the effect of Link on negative affect (NA), psychological distress, barriers to help-seeking, and help-seeking intentions.
Young people, aged between 18 and 25 years, were recruited on the Web from an open access website to participate in a randomized controlled trial. Participants were stratified by gender and psychological distress into either the intervention arm (Link) or the control arm (usual help-seeking strategies). Baseline, immediate postintervention, 1-month, and 3-month surveys were self-reported and administered on the Web. Measures included the PA and NA scales, Kessler psychological distress scale (K10), barriers to adolescent help-seeking scale (BASH), and the general help-seeking questionnaire (GHSQ).
In total 413 young people were recruited to the trial (intervention, n=205; control, n=208) and 78% (160/205) of those randomized to the intervention arm visited the Link website. There was no evidence to support a difference between the intervention and control arms on the primary outcome, with PA increasing equally by approximately 30% between baseline and 3 months in both arms. NA decreased for the intervention arm compared with the control arm with a difference of 1.4 (95% CI 0.2-2.5) points immediately after the intervention and 2.6 (95% CI 1.1-4.1) at 1 month. K10 scores were unchanged and remained high in both arms. No changes were found on the BASH or GHSQ; however, participants in the intervention arm appeared more satisfied with their help-seeking process and outcomes at 1 and 3 months postintervention.
The process of prompting young people to seek mental health information and services appears to improve their affective state and increase help-seeking intentions, regardless of whether they use a Web-based dedicated youth-focused tool, such as Link, or their usual search strategies. However, young people report greater satisfaction using tools designed specifically for them, which may encourage future help-seeking. The ability of Web-based tools to match mental health needs with appropriate care should be explored further.
Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry ACTRN12614001223628; https://www.anzctr.org.au/Trial/Registration/TrialReview.aspx?id=366731