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Original Research ARTICLE Provisionally accepted The full-text will be published soon. Notify me

Front. Psychiatry | doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00604

A pilot digital intervention targeting loneliness in youth mental health

  • 1Swinburne University of Technology, Australia
  • 2Washington University in St. Louis, United States
  • 3University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, United States
  • 4School of Behavioural and Health Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences, Australian Catholic University, Australia

Background: Loneliness is an emerging issue for young people but yet many interventions to address loneliness in this group focus on providing social opportunities. While these sorts of interventions may appear increase social connections, loneliness is more related to quality rather than quantity of social relationships. Thus, interventions addressing loneliness should focus on maximizing the quality of current relationships. Together with youth consumers both with mental ill health and those without, we developed a digital smartphone application (app) called +Connect. The six-week program delivers positive psychology content designed to improve relationship quality. We tested the acceptability, feasibility, and safety of the program in lonely young people with or without a mental health diagnosis of social anxiety disorder. We used a mixed methods study design to triangulate pilot quantitative and qualitative data in young people with and without social anxiety disorder (SAD).
Method: Nine participants with a diagnosis of social anxiety disorder (Mage = 21.00; SD = 1.41) and 11 participants with no mental health conditions (Mage = 20.36; SD = 2.16) completed the +Connect digital intervention.
Results: Those with social anxiety disorder reported less acceptable ratings on outcomes. Feasibility ratings, measured by uptake and app completion, met a priori threshold criteria in both groups. Those with social anxiety disorder yielded more attrition, with almost double the attrition rate compared with those without the disorder. There were no safety issues elicited during the pilot study. In terms of outcomes, exploratory analyses indicated that the app itself is likely to be beneficial rather than cause harm. Our qualitative data indicated both groups reported no negative outcomes and noted that positive outcomes were driven by three processes: reflection, learning, and real-life application. Further exploratory data on usability indicated room for improvement in terms of giving more support for different components of the app (i.e., challenges).
Conclusion: The pilot findings of this proof of concept app indicates some promise in terms of a second iterative version of +Connect.

Keywords: Social Anxiety Disorder, Positive Psychology, Digital intervention, Youth mental health, Loneliness

Received: 18 Feb 2019; Accepted: 30 Jul 2019.

Edited by:

Frank M. Schmidt, University Hospital Leipzig, Germany

Reviewed by:

Casimiro Cabrera Abreu, Department of Psychiatry, Queens University, Canada
Julian A. Rubel, University of Giessen, Germany  

Copyright: © 2019 Lim, Rodebaugh, Eres, Long, Penn and Gleeson. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Michelle H. Lim, Swinburne University of Technology, Hawthorn, Australia,