Feasibility and Acceptability of the Aboriginal and Islander Mental Health Initiative for Youth App: Nonrandomized Pilot With First Nations Young People

Kylie M. Dingwall, Josie Povey, Michelle Sweet, Jaylene Friel, Fiona Shand, Nickolai Titov, Julia Wormer, Tamoor Mirza, Tricia Nagel

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Background: Despite young First Nations Australians being typically healthy, happy, and connected to family and culture, high rates of emotional distress, suicide, and self-harm are also observed. Differing worldviews of service providers and First Nations young people regarding illness and treatment practices, language differences, culturally inappropriate service models, geographical remoteness, and stigma can all inhibit access to appropriate mental health support. Mental health treatments delivered digitally (digital mental health; dMH) offer flexible access to evidence-based, nonstigmatizing, low-cost treatment and early intervention on a broad scale. There is a rapidly growing use and acceptance of these technologies among young First Nations people. Objective: The objective was to assess the feasibility, acceptability, and use of the newly developed Aboriginal and Islander Mental Health Initiative for Youth (AIMhi-Y) app and determine the feasibility of study procedures in preparation for future assessments of effectiveness. Methods: This was a nonrandomized pre-post study using mixed methods. First Nations young people aged 12-25 years who provided consent (with parental consent where appropriate) and possessed the ability to navigate a simple app with basic English literacy were included. Researchers conducted one face-to-face 20-minute session with participants to introduce and orient them to the AIMhi-Y app. The app integrates culturally adapted low-intensity cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), psychoeducation, and mindfulness-based activities. Participants received supportive text messages weekly throughout the 4-week intervention period and completed assessments of psychological distress, depression, anxiety, substance misuse, help-seeking, service use, and parent-rated strengths and difficulties at baseline and 4 weeks. Qualitative interviews and rating scales were completed at 4 weeks to gain feedback on subjective experience, look and style, content, overall rating, check-ins, and involvement in the study. App use data were collected. Results: Thirty young people (17 males and 13 females) aged between 12 and 18 (mean 14.0, SD 1.55) years were assessed at baseline and 4 weeks. Repeated measures 2-tailed t tests showed improvements in well-being measures that were statistically and clinically significant for psychological distress (Kessler Psychological Distress Scale, 10-item) and depressive symptoms (Patient Health Questionnaire, 2-item). Participants spent on average 37 minutes in the app. The app was rated positively, with mean ratings of 4 out of 5 points (on scales of 1-5). Participants reported that they found the app easy to use, culturally relevant, and useful. The feasibility of the study was demonstrated with a 62% recruitment rate, a 90% retention rate, and high study acceptability ratings. Conclusions: This study supports earlier research suggesting that dMH apps that are appropriately designed with and for the target populations are a feasible and acceptable means of lowering symptoms for mental health disorders among First Nations youth.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere40111
JournalJMIR Human Factors
Publication statusPublished - 2023


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