Objective: This pilot randomized controlled trial examined the effect of an online intervention for college students at risk for suicide, Electronic Bridge to Mental Health Services (eBridge), which included personalized feedback and optional online counseling delivered in accordance with motivational interviewing principles. Primary outcomes were readiness to seek information or talk with family and friends about mental health treatment, readiness to seek mental health treatment, and actual treatment linkage.
Method: Participants were 76 college students (45 women, 31 men; mean age = 22.9 years, SD = 5.0 years) at a large public university who screened positive for suicide risk, defined by at least 2 of the following: suicidal thoughts, history of suicide attempt, depression, and alcohol abuse. Racial/ethnic self-identifications were primarily Caucasian (n = 54) and Asian (n = 21). Students were randomized to eBridge or the control condition (personalized feedback only, offered in plain report format). Outcomes were measured at 2-month follow-up.
Results: Despite relatively modest engagement in online counseling (29% of students posted ≥1 message), students assigned to eBridge reported significantly higher readiness for help-seeking scores, especially readiness to talk to family, talk to friends, and see a mental health professional. Students assigned to eBridge also reported lower stigma levels and were more likely to link to mental health treatment.
Conclusions: Findings suggest that offering students personalized feedback and the option of online counseling, using motivational interviewing principles, has a positive impact on students' readiness to consider and engage in mental health treatment. Further research is warranted to determine the robustness of this effect, the mechanism by which improved readiness and treatment linkage occurs, and the longer term impact on student mental health outcomes.
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