A Mobile Phone-Based Intervention to Improve Mental Health Among Homeless Young Adults: Pilot Feasibility Trial

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2019 Jul 2;7(7):e12347. doi: 10.2196/12347.


Background: Youth homelessness is a substantial issue, and many youths experiencing homelessness have mental health issues as both a cause and consequence of homelessness. These youths face many barriers to receiving traditional mental health services, and as a result, only a few youths experiencing homelessness receive any form of mental health care.

Objective: This project aimed to develop and determine the feasibility and acceptability of engaging young adults (ie, individuals aged 18-24 years) experiencing homelessness in a remotely delivered mental health intervention. This intervention provided brief emotional support and coping skills, drawing from cognitive behavioral principles as an introduction into psychosocial support. The intervention was piloted in a homeless shelter network.

Methods: A total of 35 young adults experiencing homelessness participated in a single-arm feasibility pilot trial. Participants received a mobile phone, a service and data plan, and 1 month of support from a coach consisting of up to 3 brief phone sessions, text messaging, and mobile mental health apps. We evaluated feasibility by looking at completion of sessions as well as the overall program and acceptability with satisfaction ratings. We also collected clinical symptoms at baseline and the end of the 1-month support period. We used validity items to identify participants who might be responding inappropriately and thus only report satisfaction ratings and clinical outcomes from valid responses.

Results: Most participants (20/35, 57%) completed all 3 of their phone sessions, with an average of 2.09 sessions (SD 1.22) completed by each participant. Participants sent an average of 15.06 text messages (SD 12.62) and received an average of 19.34 messages (SD 12.70). We found higher rates of satisfaction among the participants with valid responses, with 100% (23/23) of such participants indicating that they would recommend participation to someone else and 52% (12/23) reporting that they were very or extremely satisfied with their participation. We found very little change from pre- to posttreatment on measures of depression (d=0.27), post-traumatic stress disorder (d=0.17), and emotion regulation (d=0.10).

Conclusions: This study demonstrated that it was feasible to engage homeless young adults in mental health services in this technology-based intervention with high rates of satisfaction. We did not find changes in clinical outcomes; however, we had a small sample size and a brief intervention. Technology might be an important avenue to reach young adults experiencing homelessness, but additional work could explore proper interventions to deliver with such a platform.

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT03620682; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03620682.

Keywords: homelessness; mental health; telemedicine; treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Adolescent
  • Chicago
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Homeless Youth / psychology*
  • Homeless Youth / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health Services / statistics & numerical data
  • Mental Health Services / trends*
  • Mobile Applications / standards*
  • Mobile Applications / statistics & numerical data
  • Pilot Projects
  • Psychometrics / instrumentation
  • Psychometrics / methods
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Text Messaging / instrumentation
  • Text Messaging / standards
  • Text Messaging / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT03620682