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28.12.2020 | original article

Students’ perceptions of an online mental health intervention: a qualitative interview study

Madeleine Irish, Michael Zeiler, Stefanie Kuso, Peter Musiat, Rachel Potterton, Gudrun Wagner, Andreas Karwautz, Karin Waldherr, Ulrike Schmidt
Wichtige Hinweise

Supplementary Information

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s40211-020-00383-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
K. Waldherr and U. Schmidt are senior authors.

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.



University students are at a heightened risk of developing mental health disorders. Online interventions are becoming increasingly popular in this target group, both to prevent the development of mental health disorders and to treat existing ones. The PLUS (Personality and Living of University Students) programme is a web-based targeted prevention intervention which has been tested across two European countries. Completion of this programme has been relatively poor. Understanding university students’ opinions, experiences and perceptions of the PLUS programme can lead to future improvements in intervention design, engagement and dissemination.


Semistructured interviews were conducted with university students from the UK (n = 10) and Austria (n = 14) who had previously had access to PLUS. Students were asked about their perception and experiences of the programme, and how it could be improved. Results were analysed using thematic analysis.


Experience of online prevention programmes in general were limited and as a result of this, few had specific expectations of the PLUS programme before signing up. The lack of guidance and accountability due to the online nature of the programme made engagement challenging for many, however, frequent reminder emails helped mitigate this. In terms of positives of the programme, participants found the flexibility suitable for students and many noticed that the programme created change in how they thought or behaved.


Overall, the PLUS programme was well received by students, despite study retention being poor. Although PLUS was viewed as a useful tool to integrate into the university setting, several improvements were suggested to increase engagement. By considering this feedback, uptake and intervention completion can be improved for future preventative interventions.

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