ReachOut.com Cohort Study: A prospective follow-up study examining the role of online initiatives in promoting mental health literacy and early help-seeking

 
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Presentation First Author: 
Atari Metcalf
Abstract: 

The ReachOut.com Cohort Study builds on previous help-seeking research and cross-sectional evaluation studies in order to further understanding about the role of online initiatives in addressing the problem of unacceptably low help-seeking rates for mental health problems in young people. ReachOut.com, an Australian online prevention and early-intervention service, partnered with academic researchers from the University of Wollongong and Melbourne University, in order to recruit and follow a cohort of over 1,000 users aged between 16-25 years, with the aim of observing how young people experiencing elevated symptoms of depression or anxiety engage with different service features, and whether those who are not otherwise accessing mental health care go on to seek appropriate help. This presentation will report on the first phase of data analysis, examining the baseline characteristics of young people at the their first presentation to ReachOut.com, in terms of demography, mental health symptoms, suicidality, past and concurrent utilization of other mental health services, future help-seeking intentions and existing levels of mental health literacy and stigma.

This research aims to address important gaps in the evidence base for online early-intervention initiatives. While there is growing evidence that structured online interventions are effective in reducing depressive symptoms and promoting help-seeking, uptake outside of controlled conditions has been low. Conversely, there has been rapid proliferation in freely accessible ‘unstructured’ mental health websites and consumers regularly search the internet for information about health concerns (ReachOut.com alone is accessed by 1.8 million users annually). However there has been relatively little research focusing on the impact of these initiatives on mental health outcomes, help-seeking behaviour or potential iatrogenic effects. The specific mechanisms that translate help-seeking intention into behavior also remain unclear, resulting in limited evidence to guide interventions in this area.

The findings from this study therefore serve as an important foundation for more rigorous research in this field. Practically, the findings also have important strategic implications for ReachOut.com and similar online initiatives by providing insights about specific features or utilization patterns that may be most effective in motivating and facilitating help-seeking behaviour. At a policy level these insights will support deliberations about the appropriate role that online interventions can potentially play in population mental health more broadly

Conference Name: 
Date of Presentation: 
9th Oct 2015
Type of presentation: 
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