Abstract: Applying the UTAUT to Explore Initial Perceptions of a Mobile App for College Students’ Mental Health

◆ Katharine M. Mitchell, Michigan State University
◆ Bree E. Holtz, Michigan State University
◆ Alexis McCarroll, Michigan State University

Almost half of college students indicate they have felt so depressed or anxious that it is difficult to function. However, rates of receiving treatment are much lower than the prevalence of mental health issues on college campuses. Research has suggested that there are many potential barriers for college students in seeking help for mental health including a lack of time, cost, and stigma. Creative ways for reducing barriers for college students to receive mental health help is critical to decrease the negative outcomes and ultimately improve their quality of life. Mobile health (mHealth) interventions have the potential to promote improvements in mental health and aid students in seeking care. The MySSP app has been deployed in a midwestern university to provide live, 24/7 counselor-based help through chat, video, and/or voice to it’s students. Therefore, it is critical to understand what makes a technology acceptable in this context.

The unified theory of acceptance and use of technology (UTAUT) has been used to determine user acceptance of various technologies and is an effective framework for understanding college students’ perceptions of and intentions to use the MySSP app. There are four key constructs in the UTAUT that predict behavioral intention to use a technology. Performance expectancy is the degree to which an individual believes the purpose of the technology will help them achieve their goals. Effort expectancy is the degree to which an individual feels the system is easy to use. Social influence is the degree to which an individual perceives that others who are important to them believe that they should use the technology. Facilitating conditions is the degree to which an individual believes the technology is designed to remove barriers to use.

Objective. This study examines the relationships between the variables in the UTAUT framework, as well as depression and anxiety to determine if they predict college students’ intention to use the MySSP app.

Methods. An online survey was conducted with 184 college students. Individuals had to be students at the university and older than 18 years to participate. The survey variables included the UTAUT (performance expectancy, effort expectancy, social influence, and facilitating conditions) as independent variables; depression and anxiety as moderating variables; and behavioral intention as the dependent variable.

Results. Results suggest that performance expectancy (t = 4.13, p < .001) and facilitating conditions (t=2.48, p=.04) were significant predictors of behavioral intention. However, effort expectancy and social influence were not. Furthermore, depression and anxiety did not moderate any of the relationships between the independent variables and behavioral intention.

Conclusion. This study provides an initial exploration of college students’ intentions to use MySSP for mental health. Results show some support for the use of UTAUT, specifically performance expectancy and facilitating conditions. Participants indicated that they would download and use the app to receive mental health treatment. Additionally, having the necessary resources to use MySSP is a predictor of behavioral intention. Research should continue to explore innovative tools for college students’ mental health.