Feasibility and Acceptability of a Remote Stepped Care Mental Health Programme for Adolescents during the COVID-19 Pandemic in India

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023 Jan 17;20(3):1722. doi: 10.3390/ijerph20031722.


Remote mental health services were rapidly deployed during the COVID-19 pandemic, yet there is relatively little contemporaneous evidence on their feasibility and acceptability. This study assessed the feasibility and acceptability of a stepped care mental health programme delivered remotely by lay counsellors to adolescents in New Delhi, India, during a period of 'lockdown'. The programme consisted of a brief problem-solving intervention ("Step 1") followed by a tailored behavioural module ("Step 2") for non-responders. We enrolled 34 participants (M age = 16.4 years) with a self-identified need for psychological support. Feasibility and acceptability were assessed through quantitative process indicators and qualitative interviews (n = 17 adolescents; n = 5 counsellors). Thirty-one (91%) adolescents started Step 1 and 16 (52%) completed the planned Step 1 protocol. Twelve (75%) of the Step 1 completers were non-responsive. Eight (67%) non-responsive cases started Step 2, all of whom met response criteria when reassessed at 12 weeks post-enrolment. Adolescents favoured voice-only sessions over video-calls due to privacy concerns and difficulties accessing suitable devices. Counsellors noted challenges of completing remote sessions within the allotted time while recognising the importance of supervision for developing competence in new ways of working. Both adolescents and counsellors discussed the importance of working collaboratively and flexibly to fit around individual preferences and circumstances. Disentangling pandemic-specific barriers from more routine challenges to remote delivery should be a focus of future research.

Keywords: COVID-19; India; adolescents; mental health; mixed methods; remote intervention; stepped care.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Counseling
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Humans
  • Mental Health
  • Pandemics