Levels of well-being are declining, whereas rates of mental health problems remain high in young people. The World Health Organization defines mental health as not merely the absence of mental disorder but also includes social and psychological well-being as integral to positive mental health, highlighting that mental health is applicable to young people with mental health conditions and those without a diagnosis of a mental health condition. Reduced mental well-being have been identified in studies of young people with clinical populations, as well as in populations consisting of nonclinical young people. Self-help digital interventions can be delivered at mass at a low cost and without the need for trained input, thereby facilitating access to support for well-being. Self-help interventions are effective in young people with mental health conditions, but systematic reviews of such studies have been limited to randomized controlled trials, have not included reduced well-being as an inclusion criterion, and do not consider engagement factors such as retention.
The objective of this study was to systematically review all controlled studies of digitally delivered, self-administered interventions for young people aged 9 to 25 years, with perceived or clinically diagnosed reduced psychological well-being. Participant retention and effectiveness of the interventions were also explored.
A systematic search of the PsycInfo, EMBASE, Cochrane, Scopus, and MEDLINE databases from inception to 2021, reference searches of relevant papers, and gray literature was carried out for digitally controlled studies conducted with young people with perceived or clinically diagnosed reduced well-being, aimed at improving psychological well-being. Data were extracted to identify the effectiveness and retention rates of the interventions and the quality of the studies.
Overall, 1.04% (12/1153) of studies met the inclusion criteria: 83% (10/12) of studies were randomized controlled trials and 17% (2/12) were controlled pre-post studies. Most (6/12, 50%) studies aimed to improve symptoms of depression; 3 interventions aimed at both anxiety and depressive symptoms and 2 studies aimed at improving social functioning difficulties. Owing to the high risk of bias across interventions and lack of similar outcome measures, a meta-analysis was not conducted. Retention rates across studies were regarded as good, with moderate to high retention. Overall, the findings indicated that predominantly self-administered self-help interventions improved well-being in the areas targeted by the intervention and identified additional areas of well-being that were positively affected by interventions. Few interventions supported psychological well-being that was different from those used by young people with a clinical diagnosis of mental illness or young people from neurodiverse backgrounds.
The findings, along with the advantages of self-help interventions, highlight the need for upscaling self-help interventions to better support vulnerable populations of young people who experience poor psychological well-being. TRIAL REGISTRATION: PROSPERO CRD42019129321; https://tinyurl.com/4fb2t4fz.
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