The relationship between technology and mental health is a true dichotomy.  Just as mental health issues are experienced uniquely, with no two experiences ever the same, so too the successful intervention of technology will be closely linked to individual thoughts, feelings and behaviours. 

Since starting TechforGoodBath we have come across a number of initiatives and individuals striving for change when it comes to how we understand and support people in need of mental health services.  So for our second event of 2018 we focused on digital tech for mental health,  this is the first time we’ve focused on a specific social issue via our TechforGoodBath group and we were thrilled to see a full house hosted by The Guild Bath and cxpartners on Tuesday 24th April.

Effective and connected support for our mental health starts with a connected community. Therefore we shaped the evening around interlinking themes to from sector research to tech in practice and a vision for supporting the Bath and North East Somerset health and care system.

Loneliness and depression in a digital age

Julie Barnett, Professor of Health Psychology at Bath University, introduced the Loneliness in the Digital Age (LiDA) project.  Feeling lonely on a long term basis increases the risk of physical and mental illness and can be more damaging than having a serious smoking habit.  The LiDA project has been taking an empathetic approach to map experiences of loneliness in specific groups of people and evolve digital technologies to help these groups manage loneliness.  Through a process of co-creation the LiDA team have developed an approach which weaves face to face interaction with supportive technology.  This has led to the creation of ‘pearing’ a peer support initiative which connects people both virtually and physically to build meaningful relationships.

Linked to loneliness Dan Harris, Experience Strategy Director at cxpartners, provided insights into how digital design has been used to evolve the approach of the Samaritans.  Through a cyclical process of testing and iterating, cxpartners learnt valuable lessons around how to develop human-centered approaches to engaging people who need reach out to Samaritans in times of need.  This led to the development of a clear and accessible contact page for those in crisis seeking support.

Striving for change

As most of us still marvel at the magic of virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI) and augmented reality (AR) Steve Hutson is harnessing the power of progressive technology to inspire the next generation.  Building on personal experience of overcoming mental health challenges and addiction Steve has launched Young Visions.  Young Visions is developing a virtual learning environment to engage and inform young people using virtual reality on topics including mental health, knife-crime, substance misuse, domestic violence and homelessness.  Steve has drawn on personal experiences to build scenarios in a virtual reality space which introduce difficult and challenging topics and situations to young people, so enable them to problem solve and build resilience in a virtual space.

Similarly Caroline Mellars described how her own personal experience of suffering a mental health crisis has enabled her to deeply understand how services can collaborate in times of crisis.  Caroline is using her experience to connect and inform public services to ensure crisis response can become more effective. Caroline led the development of the Bath & North East Somerset Mental Health and Wellbeing Charter to affect positive change in mental health treatment and support services and build on the relationship between people who use mental health services and organisations that deliver the services.

Building a resilient community

One of our ambitions with TechforGoodBath has been to connect and collaborate with the third sector.  Recently we have been supporting St Johns Foundation. St John’s has a strong history and bold ambitions for the future, since 1174 the organisation has been supporting community initiatives.  Over the past 2 years St Johns have been running a series of workshops to bring the health services community of Bath around the topic of mental health. These round table discussions have highlighted the need for better signposting, access to services and communication to create a more streamlined service delivery experience for those in need of mental health support. As part of these discussions, Wellbeing Options Directory of services has been surfaced, managed and updated by council and commissioned for networking across services and social prescribing. The council are looking to develop and support ways in which this directory can be used in different ways, and urge the wider community to think about ways in which it could be useful to services they provide. The ROVA platform which sits beneath the directory has significant functionality to enable data for re-use in any authorised service across the community.

Within the community Digital Community Champions have the opportunity to influence how digital strategy in health develops by sharing experience and ideas to develop better services. Andy Morley introduced the important role digital champions can play at the community level and how individuals can get involved.