Online mental health interventions designed for students in higher education: A user-centered perspective

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Oti, Olugbenga
Pitt, Ian
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Background: Digital mental health interventions have been posited as a way of reducing the burden on mental health services in higher education institutions. However, low adherence and high attrition rates present a challenge that limits the effectiveness of these interventions. User-centered design has been proposed as a suitable approach in improving the adherence of users to these interventions. Objective: The objective of this scoping review was to examine digital mental health interventions that have been designed specifically for students in higher education. It aimed to summarize the published literature on digital mental health interventions which take a user-centered approach in developing interventions for students in higher education. Methods: A scoping review of peer-reviewed research papers from the following electronic databases was conducted: Embase, ACM digital library, Web of Science, IEEE Explore, SCOPUS, EBSCO Host (including APA PyscInfo, CINAHL PLUS, APA PsycArticles, Medline), PubMed and Google Scholar. Databases were searched from inception until 13 Jan and 14 Jan 2021. Of the 755 articles that were identified, 57 articles were selected for full review. 34 articles were excluded for not matching the inclusion criteria. Results: 23 studies were included in this review. The included interventions targeted various areas of mental health including depression, anxiety, overall wellbeing, and mental health awareness. The interventions were commonly delivered through mobile apps, web-based apps, and desktop apps. In addition, we explore design methodologies applied in the development of the interventions: we note significant stakeholder engagement in the studies, the inclusion of multiple stakeholder types (students, health care professionals, university staff, and young people in the general population), and limited use of design frameworks. Finally, in exploring user engagement, attrition rates and user acceptance, we find that most of the studies have not progressed enough (i.e., at pilot/prototype stages of development) to determine the impact of design methodologies on the success of these interventions. Conclusion: Our review revealed a need for further research on the impact of user-centered design practices on the success of digital mental health interventions in this population. Further, we provide recommendations that researchers/designers in this field of research should take into consideration when designing online mental health interventions for students in higher education. Some of the recommendations include: add personalization; improve user interfaces; take adequate steps to ensure anonymity/privacy/security; include peer engagement; and include access to mental health professionals.
User-centered design , E-mental health , Mental wellbeing , Higher education
Oti, O. and Pitt, I. (2021) 'Online mental health interventions designed for students in higher education: A user-centered perspective', Internet Interventions, 26, 100468 (14 pp). doi: 10.1016/j.invent.2021.100468