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Birmingham and Solihull NHS trials mental health app to support young people

Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust launches Silver Linings app to help psychosis service users understand and manage their illness

Birmingham and Solihull mental Health NHS Foundation Trust is trialling a mobile app to help young people manage their mental health.

The trust developed the app – called Silver Linings – with Bristol-based app developer Appadoodle, and aims to help psychosis patients take control of their treatment.

Consultant psychiatrist Erin Turner – who is part of the trust’s Early Intervention in Psychosis team and has spearheaded the work – told Computer Weekly the app has three main functions.

The first is explaining what psychosis is through giving service users information in a user-friendly medium. Traditionally patients are given leaflets on psychosis, which young people either won’t read because they “don’t read” – or because they could be worried friends would see the leaflets.

“The idea behind the app was that a lot of the young people we work with have mobile phones and we were looking for a user-friendly way for them to understand their illness and engage in their recovery,” Turner said.

The app also has a daily mood diary where patients can monitor their feelings, sleep patterns and psychosis levels.

“If patients do give a negative response, they are prompted to give the reason why. And by using dropdown options for the user, we translated these responses into visual elements such as pie charts that clinicians can quickly understand,” said Jamie Pragnell, managing director of Appadoodle.

Based on the information users enter, they are given detailed advice on a digital card which appears on the device screen, which they can swipe away once read. They also get reminders on when to take medication.

Involving users in recovery

The development of the app was led through focus groups with patients. “It meant that they could tell us what they liked, what they didn’t like and what kind of features would be helpful to them,” Turner said.

She said the app was not intended to replace face-to-face sessions, but rather to complement them and make clinics more useful. “It gives us an in-road to discuss why they have improved or deteriorated,” Turner said. Clinicians have to ask permission to see the patient’s diary and then use it to look at how they have been feeling and how that relates to missing their medication for instance. The information can then be used to update the patient’s care plans and inform adjustments to the medication if needed.

Read more about health apps

The app encourages users to set challenges for themselves and, when completed, they earn rewards and progress through the app. “It’s about helping them to understand and take part in their recovery,” she added.

The app is currently in trial phase and, although user numbers are only in double figures, the trust has plans to roll it out further.

“It’s about getting clinicians on board to inform patients about the app and encourage them to use it,” Turner said.

So far, it is only available on Android devices; however Turner said the trust was looking at plans to develop it for iPhone as well.

The app is similar to the “my journey” app created by Surrey and Borders Partnership NHS Trust in 2012, which helps young people with mental illness monitor and get advice as they recover.  

In September 2015, health life sciences minister George Freeman launched a £650,000 prize fund to develop mental health apps.

Mental health disorders affect one in four people and cost £105bn each year, said Freeman. 

Read more on Healthcare and NHS IT

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This sounds like a step in the right direction. Mental illness is a complex issue with no easy answers, but I think that everyone would agree that the problem is not being adequately addressed in many nations, including the U.S. where I'm at. 
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