Department of Psychology conducts research to create a new mental health app for young people

  • Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A new research study conducted in the Department of Psychology recommends best practice for mental health apps for people living with anxiety and depression to help improve design and usability to help developers and experts in the digital health field.

Image - Department of Psychology conducts research to create a new mental health app for young people

Dr Elias Tsakanikos, Reader in Abnormal Psychology has led this study which has also resulted in significant technical changes in the Thrive app to create a new version adapted to young people aged 12 and over.  

The study involved participants to use a mental health app for a week and to provide feedback on ways to improve this. There were five themes in which the data was collected into the user experience/user interface, location and frequency of app access, effectiveness of app for mental health goals, content of the app, and reasons for using the app. The research found that further app development would be beneficial.  

The immediate changes, and corresponding recommendations, included: changing the landscape format of the app to portrait, redesigning the interface, and simplifying the menu system. Future changes, and further recommendations, included developing a feature that allows participants to send supportive messages to each other. It also included a new comprehensive Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) course as a way of facilitating the learning process, shifting the emphasis from the exercises to the acquisition of new skill for self managing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Dr Tsakanikos said “Around 50% of all mental health (from the journal of Public Mental Health) conditions have their onset before the age of 16 and such a development holds a strong potential for social impact. The new app creates a digital service with the potential to prevent and provide early treatment to a very vulnerable cohort that is very hard to reach at a time when life-long mental health conditions are having their onset.”

Dr Tsakanikos will be attending the International Symposium on Digital Health (ISDH) to be held on 29th May to 2nd June 2019 in Hong Kong to present these recommendations.

This research builds upon an ongoing research partnership between the Department of Psychology and Thrive Therapeutic Software in which a mental health app has been developed called Thrive: Feel Stress Free which helps users to prevent and manage stress.

The impact of the research submitted by our Department of Psychology is rated ‘world leading’ or ‘internationally excellent’ (Research Excellence Framework 2014).