Students’ perceptions of an online mental health intervention: a qualitative interview study

Wie Studierende eine Online-Intervention für psychische Gesundheit wahrnehmen: eine qualitative Interview-Studie

Summary

Background

University students are at a heightened risk of developing mental health disorders. Online interventions are becoming increasingly popular in this target group, both to prevent the development of mental health disorders and to treat existing ones. The PLUS (Personality and Living of University Students) programme is a web-based targeted prevention intervention which has been tested across two European countries. Completion of this programme has been relatively poor. Understanding university students’ opinions, experiences and perceptions of the PLUS programme can lead to future improvements in intervention design, engagement and dissemination.

Methods

Semistructured interviews were conducted with university students from the UK (n = 10) and Austria (n = 14) who had previously had access to PLUS. Students were asked about their perception and experiences of the programme, and how it could be improved. Results were analysed using thematic analysis.

Results

Experience of online prevention programmes in general were limited and as a result of this, few had specific expectations of the PLUS programme before signing up. The lack of guidance and accountability due to the online nature of the programme made engagement challenging for many, however, frequent reminder emails helped mitigate this. In terms of positives of the programme, participants found the flexibility suitable for students and many noticed that the programme created change in how they thought or behaved.

Conclusion

Overall, the PLUS programme was well received by students, despite study retention being poor. Although PLUS was viewed as a useful tool to integrate into the university setting, several improvements were suggested to increase engagement. By considering this feedback, uptake and intervention completion can be improved for future preventative interventions.

Zusammenfassung

Hintergrund

Studierende haben ein erhöhtes Risiko für psychische Erkrankungen. Zunehmend werden in dieser Zielgruppe Online-Interventionen zur Prävention und Behandlung von psychischen Erkrankungen eingesetzt. Das PLUS(Personality and Living of University Students)-Programm ist ein webbasiertes gezieltes Präventionsprogramm, das in zwei europäischen Ländern evaluiert wurde. Der Anteil der Studierenden, die das Programm vollständig durchlaufen haben, war relativ gering. Diese Studie zielt darauf ab, die Meinungen von Studierenden zum PLUS-Programm besser zu verstehen, um dadurch zu einer Verbesserung von Interventionsdesign, Adhärenz und Dissemination beizutragen.

Methoden

Es wurden semistrukturierte Interviews mit Studierenden aus Großbritannien (n = 10) und Österreich (n = 14) durchgeführt, die zuvor Zugang zu PLUS hatten. Sie wurden bezüglich ihrer Wahrnehmung des Programms, zu ihren Erfahrungen damit und zu Verbesserungsvorschlägen befragt. Die Ergebnisse wurden mittels Themenanalyse analysiert.

Ergebnisse

Die Befragten hatten wenig Erfahrung mit Online-Präventionsprogrammen, weshalb nur wenige von ihnen vor ihrer Anmeldung spezifische Erwartungen zum PLUS-Programm hatten. Das Fehlen von professioneller Begleitung und Verbindlichkeit aufgrund des Online-Charakters des Programms erschwerten vielen Studierenden eine regelmäßige Nutzung, wobei häufige Email-Reminders halfen, dem entgegenzuwirken. Als positiv wurde die Flexibilität in der Anwendung gesehen. Zudem erkannten die Studierenden das Potenzial des Programms, positive Veränderungen in Gedanken und Verhalten zu erzielen.

Schlussfolgerung

Insgesamt wurde PLUS von Studierenden trotz hoher Abbruchrate positiv beurteilt. Obwohl PLUS als ein nützliches Programm gesehen wurde, das im Setting Universität integriert werden sollte, wurden einige Verbesserungen vorgeschlagen, um die Programmbindung zu erhöhen. Dieses Feedback kann helfen, die Teilnahmerate und Adhärenz bei zukünftigen Präventionsprogrammen zu verbessern.

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Acknowledgements

Ulrike Schmidt is supported by a Senior Investigator award from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and receives salary support from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health, South London and Maudsley National Health Service (NHS) Foundation Trust and Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London. Rachel Potterton is funded by a PhD studentship from the NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health. The views expressed herein are not those of NIHR or the NHS.

Funding

This project received supported by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement no. 634757.

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Authors

Contributions

Ulrike Schmidt, Karin Waldherr, Madeleine Irish, Michael Zeiler and Stefanie Kuso were each involved in the study design. Madeleine Irish wrote the manuscript. All authors contributed revisions to the manuscript. All authors and read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Madeleine Irish.

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Conflict of interest

M. Irish, M. Zeiler, S. Kuso, P. Musiat, R. Potterton, G. Wagner, A. Karwautz, K. Waldherr, and U. Schmidt declare that they have no competing interests.

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All procedures followed were in accordance with the ethical standards of the responsible committee on human experimentation (institutional and national) and with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975, as revised in 2008.

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K. Waldherr and U. Schmidt are senior authors.

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Irish, M., Zeiler, M., Kuso, S. et al. Students’ perceptions of an online mental health intervention: a qualitative interview study. Neuropsychiatr (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40211-020-00383-5

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Keywords

  • PLUS programme
  • Prevention
  • Internet
  • Qualitative
  • E‑mental health

Schlüsselwörter

  • PLUS-Programm
  • Prävention
  • Internet
  • Qualitativ
  • E‑Mental Health