Engaging children and young people in digital mental health interventions: Systematic review of modes of delivery, facilitators, and barriers

Shaun Liverpool*, Catarina Pinheiro Mota, Célia M.D. Sales, Anja Čuš, Sara Carletto, Camellia Hancheva, Sónia Sousa, Sonia Conejo Cerón, Patricia Moreno-Peral, Giada Pietrabissa, Bettina Moltrecht, Randi Ulberg, Nuno Ferreira, Julian Edbrooke-Childs

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

161 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: There is a high prevalence of children and young people (CYP) experiencing mental health (MH) problems. Owing to accessibility, affordability, and scalability, an increasing number of digital health interventions (DHIs) have been developed and incorporated into MH treatment. Studies have shown the potential of DHIs to improve MH outcomes. However, the modes of delivery used to engage CYP in digital MH interventions may differ, with implications for the extent to which findings pertain to the level of engagement with the DHI. Knowledge of the various modalities could aid in the development of interventions that are acceptable and feasible. Objective: This review aimed to (1) identify modes of delivery used in CYP digital MH interventions, (2) explore influencing factors to usage and implementation, and (3) investigate ways in which the interventions have been evaluated and whether CYP engage in DHIs. Methods: A literature search was performed in the Cochrane Library, Excerpta Medica dataBASE (EMBASE), Medical Literature Analysis and Retrieval System Online (MEDLINE), and PsycINFO databases using 3 key concepts “child and adolescent mental health,” “digital intervention,” and “engagement.” Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines were followed using rigorous inclusion criteria and screening by at least two reviewers. The selected articles were assessed for quality using the mixed methods appraisal tool, and data were extracted to address the review aims. Data aggregation and synthesis were conducted and presented as descriptive numerical summaries and a narrative synthesis, respectively.

Results: This study identified 6 modes of delivery from 83 articles and 71 interventions for engaging CYP: (1) websites, (2) games and computer-assisted programs, (3) apps, (4) robots and digital devices, (5) virtual reality, and (6) mobile text messaging. Overall, 2 themes emerged highlighting intervention-specific and person-specific barriers and facilitators to CYP's engagement. These themes encompassed factors such as suitability, usability, and acceptability of the DHIs and motivation, capability, and opportunity for the CYP using DHIs. The literature highlighted that CYP prefer DHIs with features such as videos, limited text, ability to personalize, ability to connect with others, and options to receive text message reminders. The findings of this review suggest a high average retention rate of 79% in studies involving various DHIs. Conclusions: The development of DHIs is increasing and may be of interest to CYP, particularly in the area of MH treatment. With continuous technological advancements, it is important to know which modalities may increase engagement and help CYP who are facing MH problems. This review identified the existing modalities and highlighted the influencing factors from the perspective of CYP. This knowledge provides information that can be used to design and evaluate new interventions and offers important theoretical insights into how and why CYP engage in DHIs.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere16317
Pages (from-to)e16317
JournalJournal of Medical Internet Research
Issue number6
Early online date23 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2020


  • Adolescent mental health
  • Children
  • EHealth
  • MHealth
  • Mobile phone
  • Smartphone
  • Technology


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