Understanding University Students' Perspectives towards Digital Tools for Mental Health Support: A Cross-country Study

Ilaria Riboldi1, *, Angela Calabrese1, Susanna Piacenti1, Chiara Alessandra Capogrosso1, Susanna Lucini Paioni1, Francesco Bartoli1, Giuseppe Carrà1, 2, Jo Armes3, #, Cath Taylor3, #, Cristina Crocamo1, #
1 Department of Medicine and Surgery, University of Milano-Bicocca, Via Cadore 48, Monza 20900, Italy
2 Division of Psychiatry, University College London, Maple House 149, London W1T 7BN, UK
3 Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, School of Health and Sciences, University of Surrey, Stag Hill, Guildford GU2 7XH, UK

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© 2024 The Author(s). Published by Bentham Open.

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Medicine and Surgery, University of Milano-Bicocca. Via Cadore 48, Monza 20900, Italy; Tel: +39 0257998647; E-mail: These authors equally contributed



Organisational and individual barriers often prevent university students from seeking mental health support. Digital technologies are recognised as effective in managing psychological distress and as a source of health-related information, thus representing useful options to address mental health needs in terms of accessibility and cost-effectiveness. However, university students' experiences and perspectives towards such interventions are little known.


We thus aimed to expand the existing base of scientific knowledge, focusing on this special population.


Data were from the qualitative component of “the CAMPUS study”, longitudinally assessing the mental health of students at the University of Milano-Bicocca (Italy) and the University of Surrey (UK). We conducted in-depth interviews and thematically analysed the transcripts using the framework approach.


An explanatory model was derived from five themes identified across 33 interviews (15 for Italy, 18 for the UK). Students perceived that social media, apps, and podcasts could deliver relevant mental health content, ranging from primary to tertiary prevention. Wide availability and anonymity were perceived as advantages that make tools suitable for preventive interventions, to reduce mental health stigma, and as an extension of standard treatment. These goals can be hindered by disadvantages, namely lower efficacy compared to face-to-face contact, lack of personalisation, and problematic engagement. Individual and cultural specificities might influence awareness and perspectives on the use of digital technologies for mental health support.


Although considering some specific features, digital tools could be a useful instrument to support the mental health needs of students. Since personal contact remains crucial, digital tools should be integrated with face-to-face interventions through a multi-modal approach.

Keywords: Digital technology, Mental health, Qualitative research, Students, Universities.