Research projects

CyberPsychiatry – Tertiary Self-Help Follow-up Study for Depression and Related Problems

Principal Researchers

Dr Nick Kowalenkoa, Ms Gordana Culjakb

Institution

a Department of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Royal North Shore Hospital

b Faculty of Medicine, The University of Sydney

Funding

$15,000

Award Type

beyondblue Grant

Project completion year

2008

Project brief

The prevalence of mental health disorders in the overall Australian population is highest (27 per cent) in young adults aged 18 to 24 years, yet only four in ten people with diagnosable behavioural or mental disorders seek help from a health professional.  Self-help sites for young adults may provide access to care or information that could have a role in preventing self-harm.

This project focused on tertiary students using self-help sites for depression and related problems.  The aim of the project was to describe and analyse tertiary students’ attitudes towards and preferences for being followed up after using a self-help site. Focus groups were used in the assessment of this.

Participants were asked whether or not they would like to be contacted for follow-up, what their preferred means of communication would be (mail/e-mail/phone/other), and whether follow-up would affect their participation in internet Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) programs.  Information was also collected to guide the design of a proposed randomised controlled trial (RCT).  There were 10 focus groups, each with four to six students (50 participants in total).

Key findings

Students said they would agree to being followed up after using self-help websites for depression as long as the following conditions were met: they would be warned that there would be follow-up; they could opt out; they could choose the contact method; that the follow-up was private, personalised, was not too frequent and allowed an immediate response on their part (for example, an email reminder with an immediate click-through option to the self-help website).

Preferred options for follow-up included emails (although some students regarded this as spam), a secret Facebook group (because this provided contact and anonymity), SMS text messages and mobile phone calls.

Unpopular options were podcasts, landline phone calls (because someone else could pick up the phone) and postcards (whether sealed or unsealed, although some students thought receiving mail was exciting, as long as there was no logo on it).

Implications for policy, practice and further research

Methods of follow-up for tertiary students should take into consideration effective communication strategies such as self-help websites, SMS text and email.  People’s preferences to select their contact method and maintain privacy should also be considered when following up students of a tertiary age.

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