Promoting Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) through mobile application

  • Motivation:

As students start their journey post high school, a lot of expectations and goals are imposed on them. These expectations include doing well in class, being popular among friends or having a balanced social and professional life. This often makes them anxious and affects their mental and physical health. In our research, we have focused on the mental health of post-secondary students and decided on promoting ACT through a mobile application.

Also a social stigma is associated with any mental health related issues and therapies which eventually refrains an affected individual from seeking help. So, using a mobile application to get necessary help will be more feasible.

  • Reseach Questions:

To fight mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, universities or colleges provide counselling services to the student. But there are often situations where the services are understaffed or overwhelmed by the students demands. This has led us to build our research question:

Is it possible to provide acceptance and commitment therapy to post-secondary students using a mobile application?

On conducting the first online survey, we found out that our sample population has only full-time students. Hence, we have decided on narrowing down our focus on only full-time students. The question also changes to:

Is it possible to provide acceptance and commitment therapy to post-secondary full-time students using a mobile application?

The main research question can be divided into sub problems. Solution of these problems will help us to get our result. The sub problems are:

How can we use data collected from a participants’ mobile phone to understand their mental health status? How can we create awareness as well as help in removing self-stigma of ACT using a mobile application? How can our mobile application provide an aid to a relapsing student?

  • Data Collection and Analysis:

We have conducted the study in three phases with university students as participants. We have completed our TCPS core certificate as well as written an ethics application. This application will be used to request for ethics approval for future study to be conducted with bigger and broader sample of participants. As we did not have an ethics approval, we used convenience sampling and took participants from our HCI class.

  1. Online Survey:

The first phase was an online survey (invites were sent out to the class email ids) which had basic questions such as age, gender and whether the participants are part-time or full-time students. The survey also had questions such as what the participants’ primary concern is, will they be comfortable in sharing their personal/sensitive information and give access to GPS, Bluetooth, basic social media public profile and call/text logs. (Note: The user details will be secured, and no text message content or call recordings will be stored or used in our research). Based on the responses and our background analysis, a low fidelity prototype was designed. The application is named SOM. The low fidelity prototype was done on paper.

  1. Unstructured Interview:

After designing the low fidelity prototype, another questionnaire was made for conducting unstructured interviews. We chose this type of interview because this has the scope for open ended questions and opens a platform for discussion. The aim of the interview was to gather further insights and get the participants’ opinion on the prototype. he data collected were qualitative in nature. The analysis of these data was used to develop the high-fidelity prototype.

  1. Expert testing and User Survey:

The third phase of study was conducted in two steps. The first step was expert testing where we did a heuristic evaluation on the application. The second stage was user survey. A short video of the high-fidelity prototype highlighting all the functionalities and feature was sent to the participants and a feedback survey questionnaire was sent to the participants.

  • Prototypes:

The low-fidelity prototype was designed on paper. The application was named SOM. Some of the features are:

  • GPS tracking: Our application will track the GPS location of the user, and if it does not change for more than 3 hours, it will trigger a notification to the emergency contact in the application. Exceptions will be there for sleep hours, classroom mode, work mode.

  • Sleep Time: We have added a Sleep Time feature under Preferences in the application. The users can set their sleep time so that we do not track their GPS location during this time. The purpose of using this feature is to track if user is under an attack during the non-sleep hours. If the user does not move for more than five hours from a location the application will send them notification confirming if they are fine.

  • Likes: The users can select their likes in the application under Preferences option. The application will send them notification about the events happening nearby to keep the user interested and involved in his/her surroundings.

  • Digital Pet: Our application will provide users with a feature called Digital Pet. This digital pet’s health will be based on the user’s mental status. For example, if the user’s GPS location is not changed for more than five hours during the non-sleep hours, the application will send a notification saying the ‘Buddy’s is feeling sad, please take him outside.’ We believe the users will feel connected to the digital pet and they will develop sympathy for it. This will give users a sense of responsibility.

The high-fidelity prototype was designed using Marvel, a web-based prototype designing application. After the interviews, the initial features were redesigned, and more specific features were decided which will provide a therapeutic relief to the user in stress or anxiety.

  • Conclusion:

Although we were able to get answers to most of our research questions, we were not able to answer one of them. We were not able to create awareness or help in removing self-stigma related to mental health illness. In conclusion, we can say that we were able to design a mobile application which promotes ACT in post-secondary students. Our pet feature and pet reward feature will help the user to maintain a balance and stop them into relapsing again into a stressed mental state. The GPS tracking feature will also help to find out whether the user is changing their position. In future, call logs and message logs can also be used to assess the mental health of the user.