A Group-Facilitated, Internet-Based Intervention to Promote Mental Health and Well-Being in a Vulnerable Population of University Students: Randomized Controlled Trial of the Be Well Plan Program

Daniel B. Fassnacht, Kathina Ali, Joep van Agteren, Matthew Iasiello, Teri Mavrangelos, Gareth Furber, Michael Kyrios

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Background: A growing literature supports the use of internet-based interventions to improve mental health outcomes. However, most programs target specific symptoms or participant groups and are not tailored to facilitate improvements in mental health and well-being or do not allow for needs and preferences of individual participants. The Be Well Plan, a 5-week group-facilitated, internet-based mental health and well-being group intervention addresses these gaps, allowing participants to select a range of activities that they can tailor to their specific characteristics, needs, and preferences.

Objective: This study aims to test whether the Be Well Plan program was effective in improving primary outcomes of mental well-being, resilience, anxiety, and depression compared to a waitlist control group during the COVID-19 pandemic; secondary outcomes included self-efficacy, a sense of control, and cognitive flexibility. The study further seeks to examine participants' engagement and satisfaction with the program.

Methods: A randomized controlled trial (RCT) was conducted with 2 parallel arms, an intervention and a waitlist control group. The intervention involved 5 weekly 2-hour sessions, which were facilitated in group format using Zoom videoconferencing software. University students were recruited via social media posts, lectures, emails, flyers, and posters.

Results: Using an intentional randomization 2:1 allocation strategy, we recruited 215 participants to the trial (n=126, 58.6%, intervention group; n=89, 41.4%, waitlist control group). Of the 126 participants assigned to the intervention group, 75 (59.5%) commenced the program and were included in modified intention-to-treat (mITT) analyses. mITT intervention participants attended, on average, 3.41 sessions (SD 1.56, median 4); 55 (73.3%) attended at least 4 sessions, and 25 (33.3%) attended all 5 sessions. Of the 49 intervention group participants who completed the postintervention assessment, 47 (95.9%) were either very satisfied (n=31, 66%) or satisfied (n=16, 34%). The mITT analysis for well-being (F1,162=9.65, P = .002, Cohen d=0.48) and resilience (F1,162=7.85, P = .006, Cohen d=0.44) showed significant time × group interaction effects, suggesting that both groups improved over time, but the Be Well Plan (intervention) group showed significantly greater improvement compared to the waitlist control group. A similar pattern of results was observed for depression and anxiety (Cohen d=0.32 and 0.37, respectively), as well as the secondary outcomes (self-efficacy, Cohen d=0.50; sense of control, Cohen d=0.42; cognitive flexibility, Cohen d=0.65). Larger effect sizes were observed in the completer analyses. Reliable change analysis showed that the majority of mITT participants (58/75, 77.3%) demonstrated a significant reliable improvement in at least 1 of the primary outcomes.

Conclusions: The Be Well Plan program was effective in improving mental health and well-being, including mental well-being, resilience, depression, and anxiety. Participant satisfaction scores and attendance indicated a high degree of engagement and satisfaction with the program.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere37292
Number of pages20
JournalJMIR mental health
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - May 2022


  • Be Well Plan
  • COVID-19
  • anxiety
  • cognition
  • depression
  • digital
  • digital health
  • health intervention
  • health outcome
  • intervention
  • mental health
  • online
  • online health
  • participant satisfaction
  • primary outcome
  • randomized control trial
  • resilience
  • student
  • well-being


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