Objective: To explore patterns of internet use by young people in Australia and assess the usefulness of online resources for mental health problems, exploring functionality that may be relevant in the development of online mental health services.
Design and participants: Cross-sectional survey of a nationally representative sample of young people (2000 randomly selected participants aged 12-25 years), via telephone interview, conducted in January-March 2008.
Main outcome measures: Patterns of internet use including type of use, social networking, sources of information about mental health, alcohol or other substance use problems and levels of satisfaction with the information, and type of information accessed via websites.
Results: Young people reported using the internet to connect with other young people (76.9%; 1464/1905) and to seek information about a mental health problem, regardless of whether they had a problem themselves (38.8%; 735/1894). Twenty per cent of young people (398/1990) had personally experienced a mental health problem in the previous 5 years; when these people were asked about sources of information used for this problem, 30.8% (70/227) reported searching the internet. Patterns of internet use and types of resources used differed by age and sex.
Conclusion: Our findings suggest that technology is important in the everyday lives of young people, and online mental health services that encompass promotion and prevention activities should include a variety of resources that appeal to all ages and both sexes, such as "question and answer" forums and email.