‘Randomised controlled trial of a transdiagnostic online program to reduce the symptoms of mental illness in Australian tertiary students‘
Australian National University, ACT
“It’s been my goal to develop and evaluate innovative online psychological therapy programs that help people overcome common barriers to accessing treatment, such as geographical remoteness, high cost, long waiting lists, stigma, and insufficient numbers of trained professionals.”
Dr Louise Farrer is a senior research fellow and registered psychologist at the Centre for Mental Health Research, at The Australian National University. Her work focuses on how technology can be used to improve access to mental health care among people in the community. Dr Farrer’s primary research interests are in the development, evaluation, and implementation of online mental health treatment programs.
Most recently, her work has focused on mental health in tertiary education settings, and she was awarded an ARC DECRA in 2018 to examine how mental health professionals in Australia use technology in their practice.
Of the 1.4 million students enrolled in tertiary education in Australia, approximately one third to one half will experience significant psychological distress or a mental illness. Untreated, these problems have significant ongoing personal, interpersonal, educational, and vocational implications for young people. Online interventions may be particularly suitable for university students, who face significant time and financial pressures, have heightened fear about privacy and stigma, and already have a high rate of engagement with the internet. The Uni Virtual Clinic (UVC) is a first of its kind, transdiagnostic online mental health program targeting all common mental disorders and related issues affecting university students.
This project will involve the implementation and evaluation of this intervention in a multi-site randomised controlled trial of an online mental health intervention in universities across Australia. Young people aged 18-25 enrolled at an Australian university will be invited to participate and randomly allocated to (1) use the UVC for a period of 6 weeks or (2) a wait-list control condition. Intervention content will be tailored to the user’s individual clinical needs and preferences, providing an ecologically-valid test of the intervention’s effectiveness as it is designed to be used ‘in the real world’. Participants will be assessed pre-intervention, post-intervention, and at 3 months post-intervention to test the effectiveness of the UVC on a range of outcomes including psychological distress, depression and anxiety symptoms, help-seeking behaviour, quality of life, academic self-efficacy, and mental health literacy. Usage behaviours will be analysed to determine the most clinically effective components of the intervention, and qualitative interviews will be conducted with users of the program. These results will inform the development of implementation guidelines to assist universities to implement the UVC in their institutions in the future.
Co-Investigators: Dr Amelia Gulliver, A/Professor Alison Calear, Dr Liana Leach, A/Professor Philip Batterham & A/Professor Penelope Hasking