A systematic review and meta-analysis of Internet-based self-help interventions for mental health among adolescents and college students

A systematic review and meta-analysis of Internet-based self-help interventions for mental health among adolescents and college students

Wang, Q. Zhang, W. An, S.
Internet Interventions
Purpose This meta-analysis aims to evaluate the impact of Internet-based self-help interventions on the mental health of adolescents and college students. Methods We conducted a systematic review of randomized controlled trials (RCTs) that investigated Internet-based self-help interventions aiming to mitigate mental health symptoms such as anxiety and depression, as well as managing high levels of stress, among adolescents and college students. Our search spanned databases including Web of Science, PubMed, Cochrane Library, and Embase, up until November 1st, 2022. It is essential to emphasize that our focus was the evaluation of symptoms (continuous outcomes), rather than the diagnosis of specific mental disorders. The meta-analysis was performed using the R version 4.3.1. The effect size measure was the standardized mean difference (SMD), and random-effects models were used to pool data from eligible RCTs. Subgroup analyses were carried out to examine variations in intervention effects based on factors such as sample type, intervention modality, guidance type, and intervention duration. Results The meta-analysis was based on 25 comparisons involving a total of 4480 participants. In comparison to the control group (n = 2125), participants receiving interventions (n = 2355) reported significant reductions in symptoms of anxiety, depression, and stress, along with a significant improvement in quality of life. Specifically, for depression, we observed moderate intervention effects (SMD = -0.42, 95 % CI: -0.56, -0.27), and a similar pattern was seen for quality of life (SMD = 0.36, 95%CI: 0.22, 0.49). Small intervention effects were found for anxiety (SMD = -0.35, 95 % CI [-0.48, -0.22]) and stress (SMD = -0.35, 95 % CI [-0.51, -0.20]). Given significant heterogeneity, subgroup analyses were conducted for anxiety and depression, considering factors such as sample type, intervention method, and intervention duration. Notably, college students experienced more significant benefits in both anxiety and depression alleviation compared to adolescents. Longer interventions (>8 weeks) were particularly effective in reducing anxiety and depression. Additionally, third-wave cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) showed pronounced intervention effects in both outcome measures, while the presence of guidance did not notably influence results. Conclusion This meta-analysis underscores the positive impact of Internet-based self-help programs in alleviating the symptoms of psychological disorders among adolescents and college students. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that the available evidence exhibits inconsistencies and limitations. Therefore, further research utilizing rigorous methodologies is necessary to verify and broaden the findings of this meta-analysis.

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Type of intervention

Early Intervention

Treatment and Child Welfare Interventions


Mental Health Problems and Disorders

Emotional Problems

Depression and Depressed Mood

Anxiety Problems

Anxiety and Anxiousness

Development and Life Coping Skills

Quality of Life


The organization of interventions

E-health interventions

Public Health Interventions


Age group

Adolescents (13-18 years)

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