Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Master of Science




Dr. Cheryl Forchuk



Aim: To test van Dijk’s (2005) Framework for Understanding the Digital Divide. This framework examines social inequalities that influence the phenomenon of the digital divide and the implications it has upon social participation for individuals with mental illness.

Background: Mental illness is the second leading cause of disability and premature death, and constitutes more than 15% of the burden of disease in Canada (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 2012). Mobile phones may be useful in promoting health and social wellness among this population. It is unclear whether these individuals face disparities in the access to and use of mobile phone technology and how this may affect social participation.

Methods: This study was a secondary analysis on data from the Mental Health Engagement Network (MHEN) (Forchuk et al., 2013). The MHEN evaluated the efficacy of using an electronic personal health record to promote the health of individuals with mental illness. A cross-sectional analysis of baseline data from individuals living with mental illness in London, Ontario and the surrounding area (N=403) was done. Relationships between sociodemographic variables and mobile phone ownership were explored using logistic regression. The concept of social participation was explored using independent T-tests to compare community integration, health, and quality of life between those with and without mobile phones.

Results: Only 43% of participants reported owning a mobile phone. Age, income, comfort with technology, and psychiatric diagnosis were found to be significant predictors of mobile phone ownership, and explained 20% of the variance. Participants who owned a mobile phone reported significantly better community integration scores than those without. No difference between general health and quality of life was found.

Conclusion: Sociodemographic inequalities may influence whether or not individuals with mental illness own a mobile phone. Owning a mobile phone may also affect an individual’s ability to participate in society. Practicing nurses, researchers, and policy makers should take efforts to bridge this digital divide. Further research is needed to support this study’s findings and strengthen this framework.