Designing Asynchronous Remote Support for Behavioral Activation in Teenagers With Depression: Formative Study

JMIR Form Res. 2021 Jul 13;5(7):e20969. doi: 10.2196/20969.


Background: Many teenagers in the United States experience challenges with symptoms of depression, and they lack adequate resources for accessing in-person mental health care. Involving teens and clinicians in designing technologies that use evidence-based practices that reduce barriers to accessing mental health care is crucial. Interventions based on behavioral activation (BA) help teens understand the relationship between mood and activity, help them practice goal-directed behaviors to improve mood, and may be particularly well-suited to delivery via internet-based platforms.

Objective: This study aims to understand the needs and challenges that teens and mental health clinicians face in depression management and involve them in the design process of a remote intervention that uses asynchronous remote communities. Our goal is to understand the benefits and challenges of adapting BA to an internet-based platform that supports the asynchronous remote community approach as a delivery tool for teen depression management.

Methods: We enrolled mental health clinicians (n=10) and teens (n=8) in separate, private, internet-based groups on Slack (Slack Technologies Inc). They participated in 20-minute design activities for 10 weeks and were then invited to interviews about their experiences in the study.

Results: Both teen and clinician participants wanted internet-based support for BA as a supplement to in-person therapy. Although participants perceived the asynchronous format as conducive to supporting accessible care, teens and clinicians raised concerns about safety, privacy, and the moderating of the internet-based group. Design decisions that address these concerns need to be balanced with the potential benefits of learning coping skills, increasing access to mental health care, and promoting asynchronous human connection to support teens.

Conclusions: We discuss considerations for balancing tensions in privacy and safety while designing and selecting internet-based platforms to support remote care and integrating evidence-based support when designing digital technologies for the treatment of teens with depression.

Keywords: asynchronous remote communities; behavioral activation; mental health; teens.