During the current Mental Health Awareness week, there has been a welcome focus on the huge range of initiatives, support and innovations that underpin and facilitate improved mental health; as well as on the need to improve awareness of conditions and experiences that make up mental health.
It also provides an opportunity for us to take a look at a few of the Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) projects that are working in, or have contributed to, supporting innovation in this space. As with all KTPs, a specialist Knowledge Transfer Adviser (KTA) from KTN helps initially scope and shape each project, remaining alongside throughout to support its successful delivery and exploitation.
First up, KTA Stephen Woodhouse’s KTP project between the Creative Technology and Psychology Departments, both residing at the Faculty of Science and Technology, at Bournemouth University, and my mhealth – a leading digital provider of solutions for self management of a range of long-term conditions such as COPD, Asthma, Heart Disease and Diabetes and new remote monitoring app: ‘Covid-19 Virtual Ward’.
The project, whose KTP Associate is Rob Farthing, is focused on the development of a prototype Virtual-Reality (VR) application to treat stress and anxiety. The prototype will use immersive coaching and mindfulness techniques augmented by virtual reality, offering a flexible/scalable platform to deliver powerful interventions to those whose health is affected by stress/anxiety.
Now, more than ever, the development and application of this type of technology seems particularly apposite, with so many currently living in isolation. Rob Farthing picks up the point: “Over the past few months, there has been much discussion of mental health….and my project feels more relevant than ever… having the potential to help people who are isolated through creating a means of teaching mindfulness to manage stress and anxiety digitally. During the lock-down, we are seeing increases in adoption of technology to stay connected; there are also ongoing studies into how VR in particular is helping to address the psychological effects of global quarantines through travelling to relaxing virtual locations”.
Following input led by Professor Christos Gatzidis and Professor Julie Turner-Cobb of Bournemouth’s Creative Technology and Psychology Departments, the team concluded that the mindfulness courses had a sequence of events which could be prototyped in VR to evaluate the effectiveness of a virtual approach to teaching mindfulness. It is this feedback which has helped inform the development of the prototype.
But it is not just Covid-19 that brings into sharp focus the potential for the application of this technology. Finding ways of managing stress and anxiety is here to stay. This ongoing need coupled with the robust predicted growth figures for VR (the fastest-growing segment in the UK media and entertainment industry over the next five years, with 20% CAGR.), promises to deliver positive commercial impacts as well as significant health benefits to users.
Those benefits are already being felt as a result of other KTP projects in the mental health arena. One such is a project focused on developing technology for mental healthcare – a KTP collaboration funded by ESRC between Inspire Workplaces, which specialises in mental wellbeing at work, and Ulster University.
The project aim was to develop an online support programme for employees affected by vicarious trauma – a response to an accumulation of exposure to the pain of others, for example the teams of people employed by Facebook to “curate” unsuitable content; and police officers performing digital forensics on disturbing media.
The result of the project led to the development of the Inspire Support Hub, and a chatbot called iHelpr which helps to identify the most appropriate resources to help mitigate the symptoms they may be experiencing. You can find out more about this project from this illuminating blog, written by the project’s KTP Associate, Gillian Cameron, now a Software Developer at Inspire Workplaces.
Another completed KTP in this area, also involving police officers and staff, is a research project looking at the effectiveness of practising mindfulness in a police context. KTA, Jan Stringer, helped create the partnership which brought together Dr Helen Fitzhugh, a social researcher working with the College of Policing, and the University of East Anglia (UEA). The research involved carrying out a randomised controlled trial (RCT) using online mindfulness resources. As this article shows “this research has produced strong evidence that online mindfulness training can improve the wellbeing of police employees…..The results provide evidence for future investment decisions at force and national level. This trial has demonstrated the relevance of building the evidence base for what works to improve police wellbeing and has shown that simple interventions can make tangible differences to people’s lives”.
Finally KTA, Jody Chatterjee recalls one of his projects, an ESRC/ InnovateUK funded collaboration between AIM-quoted specialist, Cambridge Cognition and Bristol University. The project was to develop an App to help depressive or anxious people manage their symptoms by learning to read other people’s facial expressions and emotions more positively; and to ‘predict potentiality’ for mental health and wellbeing problems/issues. “The App has been rolled out into the publicly funded healthcare sector, private clinics, companies and via other delivery routes. The project completed over a year ago and the Associate has gone on to be part of an entrepreneurial young company, Oxford VR, as their Partnership Director, involved in applying VR therapy in mental health” said Chatterjee.
KTPs, funded through Innovate UK, can help provide positive impact in all sectors of the UK economy, linking organisations with academic teams to deliver innovation projects led by talented Graduates or Post Graduates (KTP Associates). Find out more here. And see the latest Associate vacancies here.
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