Harnessing technology to improve mental health
28 March 2013
University of Sydney cross-disciplinary researchers are harnessing the benefits offered by advances in online technology to develop innovative programs improving mental health in young people.
Associate Professor Rafael Calvo, director of the Software Engineering Group at the School of Electrical and Information Engineering and Professor Ian Hickie, Director of the Brain and Mind Research Institute, are collaborating with the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre (Young and Well CRC) to develop new online interventions to support young people's mental health.
The Young and Well CRC is an Australian-based, international research centre that unites young people with researchers, practitioners, innovators and policy-makers from over 70 partner organisations.
Associate Professor Calvo said together the researchers are exploring the role of technology in young people's lives, and how it can be used to improve the mental health and wellbeing of those aged 12 to 25.
"The research focuses on how digital technologies can be used for the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disorders as well as for promoting psychological wellbeing," he said.
"This focus comes from the common understanding that digital technologies have made their way into all the aspects of our lives that, according to psychology, influence our wellbeing -- everything from social relationships and curiosity to engagement and learning.
"The potential of these technologies to be used to help those experiencing mental health problems has motivated researchers to investigate how internet technologies like e-mail and social media platforms like Facebook could support those when they need it most, particularly young people.
"The engineers who build these internet technologies have seldom focused on the psychological impact of these tools, until now."
The researchers and the Young and Well CRC are engaging in multidisciplinary approaches that bring software specialists together with psychologists and other mental health experts to create new technologies, specially designed to support mental health and wellbeing.
"These technologies help those suffering from depression, anxiety or other mental health issues, as well as those who are healthy but want to further develop positive attributes like resilience, empathy, optimism, gratitude and other factors shown to have an impact on life satisfaction and psychological wellbeing," Associate Professor Calvo said.
The three-year project will build upon the Inspire Foundation's ReachOut.com initiative to conduct research that informs the development of a range of online interventions including:
- a Wellbeing Hub where young people can download tools and applications to improve their wellbeing
- a semi-automated triage system
- an online clinic to provide direct support to young people experiencing a mental health difficulty.
These resources are mapped to the Australian school curriculum and will be offered at no cost to schools.
This research, together with case studies from around the world, are being described in Associate Professor Calvo's forthcoming book Positive Computing: Technology for a Better World, to be published by MIT Press. Positive Computing is an emerging field of research and practice dedicated to the investigation and design of technologies that support psychological wellbeing and human potential.
Associate Professor Calvo believes that by bringing together research and methodologies well-established in psychology, education, neuroscience, engineering and human-computer interaction, we can begin a new era of digital experiences that are deeply human-centred.
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