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Doctors and youngsters co-design apps to tackle mental illness

Clinicians, academics and young people attended today (30 July) a launch event for a suite of apps aimed at revolutionising the way doctors and patients deal with mental illnesses.

The app developers and doctors aim to reap the benefits of mobile technology when it comes to tackling, treating and preventing poor mental health.  

The Birmingham event, Digital Health and Youth Mental Health event, showcased apps that are some of the first to use ‘game-style’ features to encourage youngsters to “better engage with treatment for illnesses” like psychosis and ADHD, as well as build emotional resilience. They build on research that proves early treatment is essential in facilitating recovery.

The apps take advantage of the high usage of smartphones amongst young people to emphasise the need for technological innovation in healthcare services. Digital integration currently tops the government’s agenda for the future NHS alongside mental health priorities.

The event was opened by Birmingham & Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (BSMHFT) chief executive John Short and featured youth mental health expert Professor Max Birchwood.

The pair showed how clinicians and service users can work together to co-produce similar apps that can be integrated into routine care.

They were joined by young people sharing personal stories about their involvement with apps such as Silver Linings, a gamified app that encourages young people to self-manage psychosis and engage with their treatment to increase recovery odds.

Dr Erin Turner, consultant psychiatrist from the early intervention service at the trust, said: “Silver Linings is about engaging young people using a medium they are familiar with, helping them in their recovery by better understanding psychosis. From a patient perspective the app will help them to understand and manage their illness, and empower them on their road to recovery.

“From a clinical perspective, it helps us know patients are involved in managing their own recovery, and can give us longitudinal information that helps us to tailor our treatment plans.”

Other apps included Focus ADHD and Building Resilience apps created by clinicians from BSMHFT and app experts from web development firm Appadoodle.

Most of them build on classic game-style features such as badges and rewards to outline specific goals and reward sufferers when these are achieved.

Dr Paul Patterson, public health lead for youth programmes at the trust, said: “We must invest in new models of early intervention and prevention in ways that young people best engage with. Creating apps in co-participation with young people is part of the future of youth mental health in the NHS.”

They are now calling on leaders in the NHS to recognise the ‘enormous impact’ of technology in helping treat ill-health in young people and implement relevant apps in their mental health services.

 Top image c. Chris Radburn, PA Images


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