JMIR Form Res. 2020 Sep 15. doi: 10.2196/19876. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: The COVID-19 outbreak started in December 31, 2019, and was officially declared a public health emergency of international concern by the world health organization on the January 30, 2020. The outbreak and the safety measures taken to control it, caused many global psychological issues like depression, anxiety, and stress.
OBJECTIVE: The objectives of this study are: (i) to assess the psychological effect that the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 outbreak had on university students in the United Arab Emirates (UAE); and (ii) to investigate their awareness of mobile mental care applications (apps), and their attitudes towards the use of such apps.
METHODS: A self-administered online questionnaire, constructed of two parts, was delivered to students of the United Arab Emirates University. The first part of the questionnaire assessed the mental state of the participants using the 12 item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12), while the second part contained questions investigating the participants’ awareness and attitudes towards mental care apps. Students were invited to fill out the online questionnaire via social media and mailing lists.
RESULTS: A total of 154 students participated in the survey, with the majority being females. Results of the GHQ-12 analysis showed that the students were experiencing psychological issues related to depression and anxiety, as well as social dysfunction. Results also revealed a lack of awareness of mental care apps, and uncertainty to use such apps. Third of the participants (28.6% (44/154)) suggested a list of preferred functionalities and characteristics, which they would like to find in mobile mental care apps, such as: affordable price, simple design, ease of use, online therapy, communication with others experiencing same issues, and tracking mental status.
CONCLUSIONS: Like many groups of people around the world, university students in the United Arab Emirates were also psychologically affected by the lockdown due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Even though apps could be useful tools for mental care delivery, especially in circumstances like the ones produced by the outbreak, students showed a lack of awareness and mixed attitudes towards them. Improving digital health literacy of university student in the UAE by increasing their awareness of mental care apps and their treatment methods and benefits, as well as involving them in the co-creation process of such apps might encourage students to use them for their mental care.