Background: Due to the high prevalence of psychological disorders and the lack of access to care among Canadian youth, the development of accessible services is increasingly important. eMental Health is an expanding field that may help to meet this need through the provision of mental health care using technology.
Objective: The primary goals of the study are to explore youth experiences with traditional and online mental health resources, and to investigate youth expectations for mental health websites.
Methods: A Web-based survey containing quantitative and qualitative questions was delivered to youth aged 17-24 years. Participants were surveyed to evaluate their use of mental health resources as well as their preferences for various components of a potential mental health website.
Results: A total of 521 surveys were completed. Most participants (61.6%, 321/521) indicated that they had used the Internet to seek information or help for feelings they were experiencing. If they were going through a difficult time, 82.9% (432/521) of participants were either "somewhat likely" or "very likely" to use an information-based website and 76.8% (400/521) reported that they were either "somewhat unlikely" or "very unlikely" to visit social media websites for information or help-seeking purposes during this time. Most (87.7%, 458/521) participants rated their online privacy as very important. Descriptions of interventions and treatments was the most highly rated feature to have in a mental health-related website, with 91.9% (479/521) of participants regarding it as "important" or "very important". When presented a select list of existing Canadian mental health-related websites, most participants had not accessed any of the sites. Of the few who had, the Canadian Mental Health Association website was the most accessed website (5.8%, 30/521). Other mental health-related websites were accessed by only 10.9% of the participants (57/521).
Conclusions: The findings suggest that despite interest in these tools, current eMental Health resources either do not meet the needs of or are not widely accessed by youth with mental health problems. In order to improve access to these resources for Canadian youth, Web-based platforms should provide information about mental health problems, support for these problems (peer and professional), and information about resources (self-help as well as ability to locate nearby resources), while protecting the privacy of the user. These findings will not only assist in the development of new mental health platforms but may also help improve existing ones.
Keywords: Internet; adolescents; mental health services; online systems; survey.