Using Online Interventions to Deliver College Student Mental Health Resources: Evidence From Randomized Clinical Trials

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Abstract

This study evaluated the efficacy of Internet-based stress management programs for college students. This approach is particularly fitting for students owing to a lack of mental health resources on campus and to high levels of Internet use among students. Because a history of interpersonal trauma (IPT) is associated with more distress and poorer academic performance, IPT history was assessed as a moderator of intervention efficacy. Students (N = 365) were randomly assigned to a mindfulness plus present control intervention, a mindfulness only intervention, or a stress management information condition that served as an active comparison. Prior research has supported the efficacy of the mindfulness plus present control intervention (Nguyen-Feng et al., 2015). Outcome measures were self-report measures of stress, anxiety, depression, and perceived stress completed online at preintervention, postintervention, and 2 follow-ups (2–3 weeks and 4–5 weeks postintervention). Linear mixed modeling was used to assess change over time. Participants in all 3 groups reported significant decreases on all primary outcomes. All time-by-intervention group interaction effects were nonsignificant, suggesting that the 3 conditions were equally effective. When examining IPT history as a moderator, the mindfulness plus present control and stress management conditions were both more effective for IPT survivors than the mindfulness only intervention. Results suggested that Internet-based interventions are effective for lowering distress among college students and that specific approaches may be differentially effective for certain subgroups of students. They also suggested that providing students with stress management information without providing training in 1 specific skill may also be helpful.

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