Understanding youth experiences and information needs related to online mental health searching: A qualitative descriptive study

  • Author / Creator
    Pohl, Megan G
  • Background: A study of the mental health of Canadian youth from 2011-2018 showed an increase in the prevalence of perceived poor/fair mental health (1). Yet, many youth do not access mental health services provided by a health care provider. The most common help-seeking approach among youth is an online text-based search (2). Currently, there is much research on youth mental health help-seeking, and online searching, but little is known about how youth search for mental health information online. The objective of this study was to understand how Canadian youth search for mental health information in online contexts (e.g., internet, websites, social media).
    Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted, taking a qualitative descriptive (QD) approach. Purposeful sampling was used to recruit Canadian youth (ages 15-24 years) with experience searching for mental health information online. Recruitment occurred virtually (e.g., social media) between June and August 2021. Youth were engaged in individual interviews online via Zoom and completed a brief demographic survey online. Interview questions followed three lines of questioning, from broad to more narrow questions. Youth were interviewed on how they search for mental health information online, what type of information is helpful, and how they determine what information is trustworthy. Youth were compensated with a $15 gift card. Data collection and analysis proceeded concurrently. Braun and Clarke’s approach to thematic analysis (TA) was used; NVivo software facilitated data management. An audit trail and reflective journaling were maintained throughout the study to enhance rigor. Youth partners were engaged at the onset of the project to assist in developing study processes that were considered youth-friendly and to provide input on the interpretation of results from youth perspectives. Youth partners advised on study materials, participant recruitment strategies, data analysis, and dissemination of the results. Rickwood and Thomas’ Help-Seeking Framework was used to contextualize the findings and provide terminology to the themes.
    Results: Fourteen youth participated in interviews (mean duration 38 minutes). Youth were most commonly of Asian ethnicity (n=8), female (n=10), in high school (n=10), and living in Alberta (n=10). Four main themes were developed from the data: (1) Mindset shapes the search process, (2) External factors shaping the search process, (3) Key attributes of helpful information, and (4) Cues affecting trustworthiness of online information. Youth described that their mindset (i.e., elevated emotional state or curious/learning mindset) influenced key elements of how they searched for mental health information online. Youth also described factors external to the search process that influenced how they search—information learned in school, their parents’ perspectives of mental health, and available time—and described a preference in accessing and using the information that they perceived as helpful and trustworthy. Youth expressed that helpful information has specific characteristics (e.g., the information provides next steps, uses appropriate language, is easy to find, and meets youth’s needs) and that specific cues within online information (e.g., links at the top of the search results, information design and format, consistency of information across sources, and the source of the information) affect their perceived trustworthiness.
    Conclusions: With youth more commonly seeking mental health support online, understanding how youth search for this information is critical. This project identified four themes of relevance to how youth search for mental health information online, elements of information that are helpful to youth, and factors influencing the perceived trustworthiness of this information. This research generated relevant knowledge for youth education and the development of youth-friendly online mental health information that is perceived as helpful and trustworthy by youth. Ensuring youth have access to quality online mental health information, accessible to how they search for it, is critical to the mental health and development of youth.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2022
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Science
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Library with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.