An Evaluation of an Online Peer Support Forum for University Students With Depressive Symptoms

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Abstract

Background

Depression is the most common mental health problem among young people, particularly university students, with prevalence rates as high as 48% reported. This population however, is reluctant to seek professional help. Online interventions may be particularly appealing to students, with evidence suggesting that they use the Internet for mental health support. While there are many mental health resources on the Internet few focus specifically on the needs of young people and few have been evaluated. This research aimed to develop and pilot test an online peer support intervention for students experiencing depressive symptoms.

Methods

A depression support Web site (www.losetheblues.ie) was designed specifically for 18–24 year old students. The study used a mixed method, involving quantitative descriptive, pre- and post-test and qualitative descriptive designs. Data were collected using the Centre for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale (CES-D), a background questionnaire and online forum posts.

Results

The sample consisted of 117 university students with self-reported depressive symptoms. Results from participants in the pre- and post-test element of the study, showed no statistical significance. The forum posts revealed that the participants' main difficulties were loneliness and perceived lack of socialization skills. The Web site provided a place for sharing, offering and receiving emotional and informational support.

Conclusion

Developing health care interventions in an online environment presents unique challenges to the research process, however they have the potential to provide mental health care that is accessible and affordable.

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