A Systematic Review of Online Youth Mental Health Promotion and Prevention Interventions

Abstract

The rapid growth in the use of online technologies among youth provides an opportunity to increase access to evidence-based mental health resources. The aim of this systematic review is to provide a narrative synthesis of the evidence on the effectiveness of online mental health promotion and prevention interventions for youth aged 12–25 years. Searching a range of electronic databases, 28 studies conducted since 2000 were identified. Eight studies evaluating six mental health promotion interventions and 20 studies evaluating 15 prevention interventions were reviewed. The results from the mental health promotion interventions indicate that there is some evidence that skills-based interventions presented in a module-based format can have a significant impact on adolescent mental health, however, an insufficient number of studies limits this finding. The results from the online prevention interventions indicate the significant positive effect of computerized cognitive behavioral therapy on adolescents’ and emerging adults’ anxiety and depression symptoms. The rates of non-completion were moderate to high across a number of studies. Implementation findings provide some evidence that participant face-to-face and/or web-based support was an important feature in terms of program completion and outcomes. Additional research examining factors affecting exposure, adherence and outcomes is required. The quality of evidence across the studies varied significantly, thus highlighting the need for more rigorous, higher quality evaluations conducted with more diverse samples of youth. Although future research is warranted, this study highlights the potential of online mental health promotion and prevention interventions in promoting youth wellbeing and reducing mental health problems.

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Acknowledgments

The authors wish to acknowledge the funding provided Inspire Ireland Foundation and Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, Australia to conduct this research. The authors also wish to acknowledge the assistance of the study authors who supplied us with additional information on the interventions and their evaluations. The views expressed in this article are solely those of its authors. The authors have declared that no competing interests exist. This research was funded by Inspire Ireland Foundation and Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, Australia.

Author contributions

AC and MB conceived the systematic review and devised the protocol. AC and TK conducted the systematic review searches, data abstraction and independent quality assessment. MB conducted a further quality assessment to ensure consistency. AC and TK populated the table of evidence. AC and MB wrote the results and discussion. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Aleisha M. Clarke.

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Clarke, A.M., Kuosmanen, T. & Barry, M.M. A Systematic Review of Online Youth Mental Health Promotion and Prevention Interventions. J Youth Adolescence 44, 90–113 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10964-014-0165-0

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Keywords

  • Systematic review
  • Online technology
  • Intervention
  • Mental health promotion
  • Youth