Research Snapshot: Use of asynchronous virtual mental health resources

Use of asynchronous virtual mental health resources for COVID-19 pandemic–related stress

What you need to know

Over the past few decades, there has been an increase in free, publicly available virtual mental health resources, including online programs and smartphone apps. This includes asynchronous virtual mental health (AVMH) resources, that is, online supports that do not involve direct contact with a mental health care provider in real time. AVMH resources play a critical role in helping people access mental health supports while following public health recommendations for physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, a Canadian study showed that only 2% of participants used these resources in the first three months of the pandemic. Of those who said the pandemic had a negative impact on their mental health, 2.8% said they had used these resources.

 

This Research Snapshot is based on the article, “Use of Asynchronous Virtual Mental Health Resources for COVID-19 Pandemic–Related Stress Among the General Population in Canada: Cross-Sectional Survey Study,” published in Journal of Medical Internet Research in 2020. Available: https://doi.org/10.2196/24868. Accessed February 25, 2021.

Research Snapshots are brief, clear language summaries of research articles, presented in a user-friendly format.

What is this research about?

Over the past few decades, there has been an increase in free, publicly available virtual mental health resources, including online programs and smartphone apps. This includes asynchronous virtual mental health (AVMH) resources that do not involve direct contact with a mental health care provider in real time.

AVMH resources, such as apps, websites, online tools, or other online supports,  play a critical role during the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, helping people access mental health supports while following public health recommendations for physical distancing.

Researchers conducted a study to find out to what extent people living in Canada used AVMH resources during the COVID-19 pandemic.

What did the researchers do?

The researchers looked at the use of free and public AVMH resources (such as BounceBack and Wellness Together Canada) using the first phase of a large, multi-phase survey monitoring the mental health of people living in Canada aged 18 years or older. A total of 3,000 respondents completed the survey.

The survey asked respondents about their mental health and stress before and during the COVID-19 pandemic and what they did to cope.

During the pandemic, many Canadian provinces and territories went into a state of lockdown (closed non-essential businesses, encouraged work from home provision, etc.) to reduce spreading the coronavirus. The researchers collected the survey responses intentionally to co-occur with the reopening after two months of lockdown.

What did the researchers find?

Only 2% of survey participants said they had used AVMH resources in the first three months of the pandemic. Among those who said COVID-19 had a negative impact on their mental health, 2.8% had used AVMH resources.

Those who were most likely to report using these resources were those who had self-harmed(10.4%), were not coping well (5.5%), had suicidal thoughts or feelings (8.0%), and had worse mental health than before the pandemic (3.6%).

Accessing  in-person mental health support, connecting virtually with a mental health worker or counsellor, or belonging to a visible minority group also increased the odds of AVMH use.

Limitations of the research

The authors pointed out various limitations to their study. For example, the survey was completed online, so people with no internet access and those living in rural “blackout zones” were not represented in the survey sample. This survey also used a single question to measure use of AVMH resources, so it does not show which resources were used, people’s views of their effectiveness, how long they used them, or why they stopped using them.

How can you use this research?

This research may be of use to public health professionals and system planners seeking to promote the use of AVMH resources among people living in Canada. It may also serve as a resource for primary care practitioners and others who support those experiencing mental health challenges.

About the researchers

Chris G. Richardson,1 Allie Slemon,2 Anne Gadermann,1,3 Corey McAuliffe,1 Kimberly Thomson,1,3 Zachary Daly,2 Travis Salway,4 Leanne M Currie,2 Anita David,5 Emily Jenkins2

  1. Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences, Providence Healthcare Research Institute, St Paul's Hospital, Vancouver, BC
  2. School of Nursing, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC
  3. School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC
  4. Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, BC
  5. Patient Voices Network, Vancouver, BC