Teens using screens for help: Impact of suicidal ideation, anxiety, and depression levels on youth preferences for telemental health resources

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Background: High rates of mental illness, stress, and suicidality among teens constitute a major public health concern in the United States. However, treatment rates remain low, partially because of barriers that could be mitigated with tech-based telemental health (TMH) resources, separate from or in addition to traditional care. Objective: This study aimed to analyze TMH resource usage by high school students to establish current user characteristics and provide a framework for future development. Methods: A total of 2789 students were surveyed regarding demographics, recent anxiety and depression symptoms, suicidality, and stress; people with whom they could openly and honestly discuss stress or problems, and prior TMH use. Logistic regression models and a general linear model were used to test relationships between variables. Results: Overall, 30.58% (853/2789) and 22.91% (639/2789) of students reported moderate to severe anxiety and depression symptoms, respectively, in the past 2 weeks; 16.24% (414/2550) had seriously considered suicide in the past year, consistent with national averages. Meanwhile, 16.03% (447/2789) of students had previously used at least 1 of 4 types of TMH resources (ie, self-help, anonymous chat, online counselor, or crisis text line). Teens reporting depression symptoms, higher stress, or suicidality were less likely to talk to a parent about stress or problems and more likely to tell no one. Suicidality was related to the use of all 4 types of TMH resources. Depression symptoms were related to the use of anonymous chat and crisis text line, and those with higher stress were more likely to have used an online counselor. Those reporting anxiety symptoms were less likely to have no one to talk to and more likely to have used a self-help resource. Conclusions: Youth struggling with mental health symptoms, some of whom lack real-life confidants, are using existing TMH support, with resource preferences related to symptoms. Future research should consider these preferences and assist in the creation of specialized, evidence-based TMH resources.




Toscos, T., Coupe, A., Flanagan, M., Drouin, M., Carpenter, M., Reining, L., … Mirro, M. J. (2019). Teens using screens for help: Impact of suicidal ideation, anxiety, and depression levels on youth preferences for telemental health resources. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 21(6). https://doi.org/10.2196/13230

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