Perceived helpfulness of websites for mental health information: a national survey of young Australians

Elizabeth Oh, Anthony F Jorm, Annemarie Wright
Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology 2009, 44 (4): 293-9

BACKGROUND: Despite the high risk of developing a mental disorder during adolescence, many young people fail to receive appropriate treatment from mental health professionals. Recent studies have found certain mental health information websites have improved mental health literacy and reduced symptoms of depression. However, studies exploring young people's perceptions of such resources still remain scarce. The current paper compared young people's preference for a website with self-help books and two face-to-face services-counselling and mental health services. The factors associated with believing in the perceived helpfulness of each intervention were also explored.

METHOD: A national telephone survey was carried out with 3,746 people aged 12-25 years and 2005 co-resident parents. Perceived helpfulness of each intervention was assessed in relation to four vignettes (depression, social phobia, psychosis and depression with alcohol misuse).

RESULTS: Approximately 71% of respondents rated websites and books as likely to be helpful, which was less than for counselling, but more than for mental health services. Predictors of rating a website as likely to be helpful were older age (18-25 years), belief in seeking help, less social distance from peers like the one in the vignette, and being presented with the vignettes depicting either social phobia or depression with alcohol misuse. Predictors of rating a book as helpful included belief in seeking help, awareness of the national depression initiative beyondblue, less social distance, being presented with the social phobia vignette, and the belief that the person in the vignette is 'weak not sick'.

CONCLUSION: Most young people are open to the idea of accessing mental health information online, especially for disorders that are often perceived as behavioural problems. These young people also believe in help-seeking in general and are more willing to associate with peers who have mental health problems.

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