Background: Young people are particularly vulnerable to experiencing mental health difficulties, but very few seek treatment or help during this time. Online help-seeking may offer an additional domain where young people can seek aid for mental health difficulties, yet our current understanding of how young people seek help online is limited.
Objective: This was an exploratory study which aimed to investigate the online help-seeking behaviors and preferences of young people.
Methods: This study made use of an anonymous online survey. Young people aged 18-25, living in Ireland, were recruited through social media ads on Twitter and Facebook and participated in the survey.
Results: A total of 1308 respondents completed the survey. Many of the respondents (80.66%; 1055/1308) indicated that they would use their mobile phone to look online for help for a personal or emotional concern. When looking for help online, 82.57% (1080/1308) of participants made use of an Internet search, while 57.03% (746/1308) made use of a health website. When asked about their satisfaction with these resources, 36.94% (399/1080) indicated that they were satisfied or very satisfied with an Internet search while 49.33% (368/746) indicated that they were satisfied or very satisfied with a health website. When asked about credibility, health websites were found to be the most trustworthy, with 39.45% (516/1308) indicating that they found them to be trustworthy or very trustworthy. Most of the respondents (82.95%; 1085/1308) indicated that a health service logo was an important indicator of credibility, as was an endorsement by schools and colleges (54.97%; 719/1308). Important facilitators of online help-seeking included the anonymity and confidentiality offered by the Internet, with 80% (1046/1308) of the sample indicating that it influenced their decision a lot or quite a lot. A noted barrier was being uncertain whether information on an online resource was reliable, with 55.96% (732/1308) of the respondents indicating that this influenced their decision a lot or quite a lot.
Conclusions: Findings from this survey suggest that young people are engaging with web-based mental health resources to assist them with their mental health concerns. However, levels of satisfaction with the available resources vary. Young people are engaging in strategies to assign credibility to web-based resources, however, uncertainty around their reliability is a significant barrier to online help-seeking.
Keywords: Internet; eHealth; health literacy; help-seeking behavior; mHealth; mental health; survey and questionnaires; young adults.
©Claudette Pretorius, Derek Chambers, Benjamin Cowan, David Coyle. Originally published in JMIR Mental Health (http://mental.jmir.org), 26.08.2019.