Digital Technology for Mental Health: asking the right questions #DigitalMHQ

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From 1,500 to 130: time to choose your top 10…

Back in the Spring when we asked for your questions about Digital Technology for Mental Health, we didn’t know how many people would respond or how many questions they would have. We now know that over 600 people had around 1,500 questions! Wow – that’s a lot! And we want to first say a big thank you for letting us know what is important about this growing area of mental health care and support.

We had questions sent in from all parts of the UK (and beyond) and from people from all walks of life. We heard from people with personal experience of mental health problems, people who care for others with mental health problems and the clinicians and practitioners who work in services. Many people wear two or three of these hats. Not everyone feels confident with digital technology and not everyone uses it regularly. But everyone had important questions to ask.

Apps, apps and more apps…

There were loads of questions about apps, but not just apps. In the mix are questions about the full range of technologies – everyday things like SMS text messaging and email, video calling; social media and online forums through to more cutting edge innovations such as computer games; artificial intelligence and chatbots; virtual reality; wearables and sensors. There is even a question about the role of ‘white noise’ in mental health care. The questions also covered a wide range of issues, from getting access and removing barriers to using digital, through to how to use technologies in the best, most effective way. Many people asked about whether digital is intended to replace human face-to-face contact and if so, what will be lost (or what are the benefits). Questioners were concerned about key groups of people and how the growth of digital would affect them, for example older people, young people, people from different cultural backgrounds, those socially disadvantaged.

Funnelling down to the top 10

Right from the start, our goal has been to find the most important 10 questions for research by using the James Lind Alliance method – this means we’re taking a collaborative and deliberative approach to how we do it. More details of the careful, deliberative approach we’ve taken to working through all the questions is described in our November update (PDF). The collaborative element, means that we are calling on you again to contribute.

All we need is a few minutes of your time to complete a short survey:

Crowds needed to reduce bias

The result of the work to gather in and then carefully check the questions, means that we are confident there are lots of unanswered questions about using digital technology for mental health – 134 in our list (to be precise!). To reach our final list of the most important 10 research priorities, we want you to pick your personal top 10. Each person will have a their own view on the important areas for future research – their personal experience of how digital can be used, it’s benefits and the challenges or potential risks will vary from person to person, situation to situation. That’s ok – but it does mean we need to hear from lots of people to minimise the bias in the final list. The more people who pick their top 10, the more confident we will be that the questions ranked the highest will be those that are important to lots of people.

What’s important to you?

Choosing just 10 from a list of 130+ seemed like a tough ask – so each person will be shown a random sample of one third of the questions to select from. It’ll take about 10 minutes to complete and at the end you can enter a prize draw for one of three fab prizes:

The survey will stay open into early 2018 – tell all your family, friends and colleagues about it and get them choosing their top 10 also.

What happens next?

Once we’ve heard from everyone again – hopefully at least 600 people again – we’ll count up the votes for each question to find the 25-30 that are deemed the most important by the most people. These questions will be discussed, debated and ranked at a one-day workshop in March 2018. A group of around 30 people with a range of experiences and perspectives will work together to agree which of questions are the 10 most important for research. The final stage will be widely publicising these questions so that researchers and research funders know where to focus their attention. We’ll update you on the workshop and final top 10 in spring 2018.  

Thank you from all at the DigitalMHQ team!

Take the final #DigitalMHQ survey now: https://elfi.sh/digitalmhq

This project is being run by NIHR MindTech Healthcare Technology Cooperative in partnership with the James Lind Alliance, The Mental Elf and our co-funders: Mental Health Foundation; MQ Transforming mental health through research; NIHR Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre; McPin Foundation; Mental Health Intelligence and Leadership Programme, Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust; Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust; Centre for Assistive Technology and Connected Health, University of Sheffield; Nesta, mHabitat; University Counselling Service, University of Sheffield.

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