Do web-based mental health literacy interventions improve the mental health literacy of adult consumers? results from a systematic review
Background: Low levels of mental health literacy (MHL) have been identified as an important contributor to the mental health treatment gap. Interventions to improve MHL have used traditional media (eg, community talks, print media) and new platforms (eg, the Internet). Evaluations of interventions using conventional media show improvements in MHL improve community recognition of mental illness as well as knowledge, attitude, and intended behaviors toward people having mental illness. However, the potential of new media, such as the Internet, to enhance MHL has yet to be systematically evaluated. Objective: Study aims were twofold: (1) To systematically appraise the efficacy of Web-based interventions in improving MHL. (2) To establish if increases in MHL translated into improvement in individual health seeking and health outcomes as well as reductions in stigma toward people with mental illness. Methods: We conducted a systematic search and appraisal of all original research published between 2000 and 2015 that evaluated Web-based interventions to improve MHL. The PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines were used to report findings. Results: Fourteen studies were included: 10 randomized controlled trials and 4 quasi-experimental studies. Seven studies were conducted in Australia. A variety of Web-based interventions were identified ranging from linear, static websites to highly interactive interventions such as social media games. Some Web-based interventions were specifically designed for people living with mental illness whereas others were applicable to the general population. Interventions were more likely to be successful if they included "active ingredients" such as a structured program, were tailored to specific populations, delivered evidenced-based content, and promoted interactivity and experiential learning. Conclusions: Web-based interventions targeting MHL are more likely to be successful if they include active ingredients. Improvements in MHL see concomitant improvements in health outcomes, especially for individuals with mild to moderate depression. The most promising interventions suited to this cohort appear to be MoodGYM and BluePages, 2 interventions from Australia. However, the relationship between MHL and formal and informal help seeking is less clear; self-stigma appears to be an important mediator with results showing that despite improvements in MHL and community attitudes to mental illness, individuals with mental illness still seek help at relatively low rates. Overall, the Internet is a viable method to improve MHL. Future studies could explore how new technology interfaces (eg, mobile phones vs computers) can help improve MHL, mental health outcomes, and reduce stigma.