Research projects

Young people's responses to emotional distress

Principal researchers

Lena Sanci, Sophie Reid and George Patton


Department of Adolescent Health, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne



Award Type

beyondblue Victorian Centre of Excellence

Project completion year


Project brief

To better understand what young people do when they are distressed and the extent to which these behaviours ameliorate or exacerbate their distress, effective, innovative, and in particular, youth-friendly methods of capturing young people’s experiences need to be developed. This project developed the first momentary sampling program for mobile phones, allowing researchers to randomly sample participants throughout the day in their natural environment.

The program, Mobile Tracking Young People’s Experiences Program (Mobile_TYPE program), is an electronic diary that randomly signals participants to complete four diaries a day for seven days. The diary asks a range of questions including: location, company, activities, how the participant is feeling and any stressful events that have occurred. Data was collected from Year 9 and Year 11 students from two Victorian secondary schools. Focus groups were conducted with a total of 11 young people. In these focus groups we sought feedback regarding length of assessment and appropriateness of the wording of the assessment questions. Following the focus groups, we conducted a pilot study with 18 young people to examine the feasibility of using the Mobile_TYPE program and to address the following methodological issues: the best mood and coping measures to include in the program, the frequency of assessments, the appropriate length of individual assessments and of study participation, the use of open-ended responses of young people’s thoughts and the development of a coding schedules for these.

The use of the electronic diaries was well received in both schools and the students and teachers involved in the study were positive and enthusiastic.

Most students enjoyed using the electronic diary and found it quick, fun and easy to use.  The diary provided a range of information on the young people’s everyday activities and a broad range of responses young people engage in when stressful situations occur.

The electronic diary demonstrated that young people do a broad range of things when feeling distressed including study, sleep, eat, relax and see friends.  A large proportion of young people also reported that they did nothing in response to feeling distressed.

This is the first research world-wide to develop a mood monitoring program that can be used on a tool many young people already own, therefore making it widely accessible to a range of users, and in the future easily obtained from the internet.

The Mobile_TYPE program has many implications for research and clinical practice. For research, the program allows researchers insight into the helpful and unhelpful things young people do in response to stress. This study also has implications as a monitoring tool for clinicians who want to monitor clients who experience distress and are at risk of depression.

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