Exploring the Potential of Technology-Based Mental Health Services for Homeless Youth: A Qualitative Study

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Abstract

Homelessness has serious consequences for youth that heighten the need for mental health services; however, these individuals face significant barriers to access. New models of intervention delivery are required to improve the dissemination of mental health interventions that tailor these services to the unique challenges faced by homeless youth. The purpose of this study was to better understand homeless youths’ use of technology, mental health experiences and needs, and willingness to engage with technology-supported mental health interventions to help guide the development of future youth-facing technology-supported interventions. Five focus groups were conducted with 24 homeless youth (62.5% female) in an urban shelter. Youth were 18- to 20-years-old with current periods of homelessness ranging from 6 days to 4 years. Transcripts of these focus groups were coded to identify themes. Homeless youth reported using mobile phones frequently for communication, music, and social media. They indicated a lack of trust and a history of poor relationships with mental health providers despite recognizing the need for general support as well as help for specific mental health problems. Although initial feelings toward technology that share information with a provider were mixed, they reported an acceptance of tracking and sharing information under certain circumstances. Based on these results, we provide recommendations for the development of mental health interventions for this population focusing on technology-based treatment options.

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