Sexual and gender minority youth (SGMY; eg, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth) experience myriad substance use and mental health disparities compared with their cisgender (nontransgender) heterosexual peers. Despite much research showing these disparities are driven by experiences of bullying and cyberbullying victimization, few interventions have aimed to improve the health of bullied SGMY. One possible way to improve the health of bullied SGMY is via a Web-accessible game intervention. Nevertheless, little research has examined the feasibility of using a Web-accessible game intervention with SGMY.
This study aimed to describe the protocol for a randomized controlled trial (RCT) pilot, testing the feasibility and limited efficacy of a game-based intervention for increasing help-seeking–related knowledge, intentions, self-efficacy, behaviors, productive coping skills use, and coping flexibility and reducing health risk factors and behaviors among SGMY.
We enrolled 240 SGMY aged 14 to 18 years residing in the United States into a 2-arm prospective RCT. The intervention is a theory-based, community-informed, computer-based, role playing game with 3 primary components: encouraging help-seeking behaviors, encouraging use of productive coping, and raising awareness of Web-based resources. SGMY randomized to both the intervention and control conditions will receive a list of SGMY-inclusive resources, covering a variety of health-related topics. Control condition participants received only the list of resources. Notably, all study procedures are conducted via the internet. We conveniently sampled SGMY using Web-based advertisements. Study assessments occur at enrollment, 1 month after enrollment, and 2 months after enrollment. The primary outcomes of this feasibility study include implementation procedures, game demand, and game acceptability. Secondary outcomes include help-seeking intentions, self-efficacy, and behaviors; productive coping strategies and coping flexibility; and knowledge and use of Web-based resources. Tertiary outcomes include bullying and cyberbullying victimization, loneliness, mental health issues, substance use, and internalized sexual and gender minority stigma.
From April to July 2018, 240 participants were enrolled and randomized. Half of the enrolled participants (n=120) were randomized into the intervention condition and half (n=120) into the control condition. At baseline, 52.1% (125/240) of the participants identified as gay or lesbian, 26.7% (64/240) as bisexual, 24.2% (58/240) as queer, and 11.7% (28/240) as another nonheterosexual identity. Nearly half (113/240) of participants were a gender minority: 36.7% (88/240) were cisgender boys, and 16.3% (39/240) were cisgender girls. There were no differences in demographic characteristics between intervention and control condition participants.
Web-accessible game interventions overcome common impediments of face-to-face interventions and present a unique opportunity to reach SGMY and improve their health. This trial will provide data on feasibility and limited efficacy that can inform future Web-based studies and a larger RCT aimed at improving health equity for SGMY.
ClinicalTrials.gov NCT03501264; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03501264 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/72HpafarW)