Developing an explanatory theoretical model for engagement with a web-based mental health platform: results of a mixed methods study

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Gordon, Dara
Hensel, Jennifer
Bouck, Zachary
Desveaux, Laura
Soobiah, Charlene
Saragosa, Marianne
Jeffs, Lianne
Bhatia, Sacha
Shaw, James
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Abstract Background With the growing need for accessible, high-quality mental health services, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been increasing development and uptake of web-based interventions in the form of self-directed mental health platforms. The Big White Wall (BWW) is a web-based platform for people experiencing mental illness and addiction that offers a range of evidence-based self-directed treatment strategies. Drawing on existing data from a large-scale evaluation of the implementation of BWW in Ontario, Canada (which involved a pragmatic randomized controlled trail with an embedded qualitative process evaluation), we sought to investigate the influences on the extent to which people engage with BWW. Methods In this paper we drew on BWW trial participants’ usage data (number of logins) and the qualitative data from the process evaluation that explored participants’ experiences, engagement with and reactions to BWW. Results Our results showed that there were highly complex relationships between the influences that contributed to the level of engagement with BWW intervention. We found that a) how people expected to benefit from using a platform like BWW was an important indicator of their future usage, b) moderate perceived symptoms were linked with higher engagement; whereas fewer actual depressive symptoms predicted use and anxiety had a positive linear relationship with usage, and that c) usage depended on positive early experiences with the platform. Conclusions Our findings suggest that the nature of engagement with platforms such as BWW is not easily predicted. We propose a theoretical framework for explaining the level of user engagement with BWW that might also be generalizable to other similar platforms.
BMC Psychiatry. 2021 Aug 21;21(1):417