Unpacking the results of a pilot randomized control trial of imi, a web app designed to improve mental health by supporting LGBTQ+ identity affirmation and boosting positive coping skills


Due to the stress arising from stigma and discrimination, LGBTQ+ youth are more than twice as likely to report feeling sad and hopeless, and more than three times as likely to have contemplated suicide than their straight and cisgender peers. These problems are further compounded for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and transgender youth, who face multiple sources of discrimination due to their race, ethnicity, and gender identity. Hopelab, in partnership with CenterLink and the It Gets Better Project designed imi to address these mental health disparities. imi is a web application that supports LGBTQ+ teens’ mental health by affirming their identities and helping teens cope with the stress imposed by discrimination. Data from a randomized controlled trial, described below, indicates that imi is effective at promoting the well-being of LGBTQ+ teens, helping them to develop positive coping skills and mindsets.

Understanding the study

Researchers at Hopelab and the University of Pennsylvania’s Program on Sexuality, Technology, and Action Research (PSTAR) conducted a pilot randomized controlled trial to understand how imi supports the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth. Researchers enrolled 270 LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-19, living in the United States. Approximately 78% of the sample identified as racial and/or ethnic minorities, and approximately 60% of the sample identified as transgender, gender non-conforming, or non-binary. Participants were randomly assigned to either a treatment or control group. The treatment group received access to the full imi intervention web app, consisting of four interactive guides on topics LGBTQ+ teens identified as important to them, including gender identity, LGBTQ+ identity, stress and coping, and internalized homophobia and transphobia. The treatment group also received a web-based list of freely available, vetted resources for LGBTQ+ youth. The control group only received the web-based resource list and did not receive any of the other content in the imi guides. This allowed for a test of whether imi offers teens a resource that goes above and beyond existing, freely accessible web resources. 

Over the course of four weeks, researchers assessed coping skills and mindsets, mental health symptoms, and intervention satisfaction. Participants in both groups completed assessments via web-based surveys at baseline and at the 4-week follow-up. 

The results 

Results from the trial show that imi boosts positive coping skills and mindsets that are important for supporting the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth. Teens randomly assigned to receive the full imi web app reported significantly greater improvements in coping skills, and significantly greater confidence in their coping abilities than those randomly assigned to the resource-only control group. They also were significantly more satisfied with the imi web app than the control group and reported being more likely to recommend the web app to an LGBTQ+ friend. 

Participants also gave open-ended feedback regarding their experience with imi. Many participants had positive feedback, of which a few select quotes are noted here.

I've been struggling to find the labels that fit but the examples and information available have reminded and reinforced in me the idea that that's okay and I don't need a label. In my opinion, imi is awesome and I think it will help a lot of people.
16 year old multiracial genderqueer teen from California
It was incredibly inclusive of all members of the LGBT community. It steered away from stereotypes and seemed welcoming to just about anyone. It gave new, positive insights and ideas I hadn’t thought about before and helped me feel comfortable with myself.
16 year old white genderfluid teen from Florida

Taken together, these are promising early findings

These results suggest that imi can play an important role in helping LGBTQ+ teens cope with sexual and gender minority stress. Additionally, by being freely-accessible, on demand, scalable, confidential, and not requiring a significant time commitment, imi has the potential to overcome access and engagement barriers faced by in-person interventions. Further research is needed to examine the long-term effects of imi on sexual and gender minority stress and its effect on mental health symptoms and coping abilities for LGBTQ+ youth. 

You can read the full study results in the Journal of Medical Internet Research

Try imi or share this free resource

imi (pronounced eye-me) helps LGBTQ+ youth explore and affirm their identity and learn practical approaches to cope with stress that are helpful, relevant, inclusive and joyful. Designed with and for LGBTQ+ teens, with an intentional focus on BIPOC, transgender, non-binary, and gender nonconforming youth, imi features videos, audio recordings, artwork, and affirmations from LGBTQ+ teens to boost positive coping skills and mindsets that support LGBTQ+ youth mental well-being. imi is available for free; easily accessible from any device with a web browser and internet connection at imi.guide

Help spread the word about imi to LGBTQ+ youth

Add imi as a resource to your organization’s page, print posters/postcards, or share on social with our free online digital toolkit that includes social templates, key messages, and other assets to help get the word out about imi. 


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