Pilot testing the feasibility of a game intervention aimed at improving help seeking and coping among sexual and gender minority youth: protocol for a randomized controlled trial

Robert W.S. Coulter, Jordan M. Sang, William Louth Marquez, Emmett R. Henderson, Dorothy Espelage, Simon C. Hunter, Matthew DeLucas, Kaleab Z. Abebe, Elizabeth Miller, Brooke A. Morrill, Kimberley Hieftje, Mark S. Friedman, James E. Egan

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21 Citations (Scopus)
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Background: Sexual and gender minority youth (SGMY; e.g., lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth) experience myriad substance use and mental health disparities compared with their cisgender (non-transgender) 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 an online-accessible game intervention. Nevertheless, little research has examined the feasibility of using an online-accessible game intervention with SGMY.
Objectives: 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, and behaviors, productive coping skills use, and coping flexibility, and reducing health risk factors and behaviors among SGMY.
Methods: We enrolled 240 SGMY aged 14-18 years residing in the United States into a two-arm prospective RCT. The intervention is a theory-based, community-informed, computer-based, role playing game with three primary components: (1) encouraging help-seeking behaviors; (2) encouraging use of productive coping; and (3) raising awareness of online 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 online. We conveniently sampled SGMY using online website 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 online resources. Tertiary outcomes include bullying and cyberbullying victimization; loneliness; mental health issues; substance use; and internalized sexual and gender minority stigma.
Results: From April through 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% of participants identified as gay or lesbian, 27% as bisexual, 24% as queer, and 12% as another non-heterosexual identity. Nearly half (47%) of participants were a gender minority, 37% were cisgender boys, and 16% were cisgender girls. There were no differences in demographic characteristics between intervention and control condition participants. Data collection is anticipated to end in November 2018.
Conclusions: Online-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 online studies and a larger RCT aimed at improving health equity for SGMY.
Trial Registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT03501264; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT03501264 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/72HpafarW)
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere12164
Number of pages29
JournalJMIR Research Protocols
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2019


  • sexual minority youth
  • gender minority youth
  • game intervention
  • feasibility
  • help-seeking
  • coping
  • substance use
  • mental health
  • randomized controlled trial


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