JMIR Research Protocols (Oct 2020)

Coping Skills Mobile App to Support the Emotional Well-Being of Young People During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Protocol for a Mixed Methods Study

  • Serlachius, Anna,
  • Schache, Kiralee,
  • Boggiss, Anna,
  • Lim, David,
  • Wallace-Boyd, Kate,
  • Brenton-Peters, Jennifer,
  • Buttenshaw, Elise,
  • Chadd, Stephanie,
  • Cavadino, Alana,
  • Cao, Nicholas,
  • Morunga, Eva,
  • Thabrew, Hiran

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 9, no. 10
p. e23716


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BackgroundThe COVID-19 pandemic is likely to increase anxiety and distress in young people worldwide. It is important to prioritize mental health during crisis events to mitigate the negative and often long-term effects of the crises on young people, families, and society. Mental health and well-being apps represent a scalable approach for improving psychological outcomes in young people and have potential to improve the equity of service access. ObjectiveThe Whitu: 7 Ways in 7 Days well-being app was recently developed by our group to address the urgent need for innovative approaches to reach young New Zealanders who are struggling to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. The aim of this study is twofold: to evaluate the acceptability of the prototype app and to examine the effectiveness of the refined app at improving mental and emotional well-being and reducing depression, anxiety, and stress in young people in New Zealand. MethodsA two-phase mixed methods study will be undertaken to achieve these aims. During the first phase, 20 young people aged 16-30 years (including those of Māori and Pacific ethnicity) will participate in a qualitative study to help refine the prototype app. During the second phase, 90 young people aged 16-30 years will participate in a randomized waitlist-controlled trial (RCT) to evaluate the efficacy of the refined Whitu app at 4 weeks and 3 months after baseline. Outcomes will be evaluated using validated web-based questionnaires at baseline, 4 weeks, and 3 months. ResultsThe study received ethics approval in May 2020, and recruitment for the focus groups commenced in June 2020. Recruitment for the RCT is expected to commence in October 2020. Participants for both study phases will be recruited via social media and web-based communities. Data collection for the RCT is expected to be completed by January 2021, and analyses are expected to be completed by March 2021. Linear mixed modelling will be used to determine between-group differences in psychological outcomes. ConclusionsThere is an urgent need to develop culturally appropriate, scalable mental health interventions to address the psychological consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. In this study, we will develop and test an evidence-based well-being app that, if effective, can be made available to all young people in New Zealand and internationally. Trial RegistrationAustralian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ACTRN12620000516987); International Registered Report Identifier (IRRID)PRR1-10.2196/23716