Working towards a PhD with TEAM

By Toni Michel
Monday, 19th March 2018
Filed under: ESRBlog

This is a short overview of my project and what I am currently up to. In later blog posts, I would like to expand how I ended up in this project, what day to day work is like, and where I think things are currently leading. However, this entry only serves as a short primer.  

My project is embedded in the overarching goal of finding ways to improve youth mental health using technology. I am one of fifteen PhD students aiming towards this. Some are looking to improve diagnosis, for others treatment is central. Others deal with laws and policies relating to mental health. A few of us, me included, are looking for ways to improve prevention, which is predicated on the idea that whether or not mental health problems develop in the first place partially depends on people’s resilience, which can be trained and improved.

In researching this topic I’ve discovered that most currently available apps to support mental health follow a one-size-fits-all approach, which does not take into account how different young people are – a non-trivial problem for any young person who deviates from developer assumptions. One group of young people for whom this is the case would be those who are not proficient in the language the app offers. Some of those young people might be migrants, some refugees, and some might have a problematic educational background. But, whatever the reason, currently many young people are excluded from making use of mental health services in general, or mental health technology specifically, because of these access barriers.

To this end I am planning to create a multimodal toolkit over the next few years. Young people will be able to use the toolkit to create individual activities to support their mental health and wellbeing. Hopefully the toolkit will provide some alleviation to those for whom access to these services and technologies is most important

Currently, I'm in the process of writing up a review of apps supporting mental health. This turned out to be quite insightful. For example: Just finding apps specifically geared towards young people revealed itself as a challenge. It’s not that there are none – I was eventually able to find 36 overall – but I first had to collect a lot more than that and categorize them by hand, app by app. A process most young people looking for support are unlikely to engage with. It turned out that there is great as-of-yet unused potential in this space. Granted, this is not good news for young people who are looking for help right now, but it also means that there are a series of realistic improvements possible, which could rapidly make these apps more exciting, more engaging and more useful, and also open them up for the aforementioned high-risk groups.

While doing that, I am also preparing workshops at Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families in London (AFC), who accepted to host me for three months. AFC gave me this opportunity, so that I may connect myself with mental health experts. Thanks to that, it will be easier for me in the future to verify the validity of ideas for interventions, because I will know experts with whom I may discuss them. The goal of my workshops at AFC is to bring young people together with mental health experts and let them co-design how future apps to support youth mental health could look like. The mental health experts will participate to make sure that anything that is designed stays inside of evidence-based practice, while the young people will join as experts for their own experiences and preferences. Planning these workshops is a lot of fun, not least because it means collaborating with some highly skilled other TEAM PhD students. Whether or not we will be able to actually execute the workshops, however, currently depends on getting ethics clearance in time, with possible delays due to the ongoing UCU strike.

I will also be travelling to Montreal end of April, to visit the CHI conference, and participate in a mental health symposium there. I've heard great things about the conference and am intensely looking forward to this journey. The event also happens to perfectly demarcate the end of my time in London and will be a good next opportunity for me to write more about what the project is up to.

Our Network Partners

  • University College Dublin
  • Denmark Technical University
  • Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families
  • Region H Psychiatry
  • Technical University Vienna
  • ReachOut Ireland
  • Medical University Vienna
  • University of Glasgow
  • Telefonica Alpha