Challenges in Recruiting University Students for Web-Based Indicated Prevention of Depression and Anxiety: Results From a Randomized Controlled Trial (ICare Prevent)
Bolinski F, Kleiboer A, Neijenhuijs K, Karyotaki E, Wiers R, de Koning L, Jacobi C, Zarski A, Weisel K, Cuijpers P, Riper H. Challenges in Recruiting University Students for Web-Based Indicated Prevention of Depression and Anxiety: Results From a Randomized Controlled Trial (ICare Prevent). J Med Internet Res 2022;24(12):e40892. DOI: 10.2196/40892
This study described recruitment challenges for a transdiagnostic, web-based prevention program and presented initial analysis on the intervention’s effectiveness on depression and anxiety symptoms. The study was a 3-arm randomized controlled trial with students (at least 16 years old) with subclinical symptoms of depression and anxiety to compare individually guided and automatically guided versions of ICare Prevent versus care as usual. ICare Prevent is a web-based and mobile-supported intervention for prevention of depression and anxiety. ICare Prevent is a 7-session web-based program (45-60 minutes each) and participants were instructed to complete 1-2 sessions weekly. ICare Prevent also provides elective modules and diaries that target factors common to mood and anxiety problems (i.e., sleep, alcohol use, positive activities). The individually guided version provided structured and personalized feedback on exercises and the automatically guided version provided standard and computerized feedback after each session. The study’s original recruitment goal was 252 student participants. Various strategies of recruitment were used, including social media campaigns on Facebook and Instagram, printed advertising at universities, paid participant platform, and other collaborations. Direct recruitment using students’ email addresses via the student administration was the most effective strategy. Despite these strategies, data was available for only 35 participants (individually guided: n=14, automatically guided: n=8, care as usual: n=13). Participants provided self-reported depression and anxiety symptoms at baseline, 6-month, and 12-month follow-up. Log data from the intervention platform showed low usage, with an average of 3 out of 7 sessions completed. Results did not show sufficient evidence of intervention effects on depression and anxiety over time in any intervention arm. Overall, recruitment for this population was challenging and more research is needed to identify factors to better engage college students in research studies.