Supporting Healthy Minds for People with Intellectual Disabilities
Published: 29 March, 2019
They’re more likely than the general population to be diagnosed with a mental illness, but people with intellectual disabilities have very few places to turn for mental health support – until now.
A program called Healthy Minds is currently being developed by researchers at the Black Dog Institute to enhance mental health and mental health literacy for people with intellectual disability. And, despite being in its infancy, it’s already showing promising results.
The Healthy Minds research team recently completed a study demonstrating the feasibility and acceptability of the program for people with various types of intellectual disability. Published today in the Journal of Medical Internet Research – Mental Health (JMIR Mental Health), this study is the first of its kind to examine the design process that underpins effective e-mental health platforms for this cohort.
“We were really interested in the design of the platform itself and the way users engage with it and understand its content,” says Katherine Boydell, Professor of Mental Health at Black Dog Institute and the senior author of the study.
“Existing initiatives in this space have been focused on implementation, but we were really interested in stepping back and looking at the design to understand how it can be adapted to better serve our target audience.”
The study was focused on two Healthy Minds modules: ‘Relax, Breathe Easy’, which guides users through relaxation and body visualisation exercises; and ‘Tackling Unhelpful Thinking’, which helps users identify and manage negative thoughts. Both modules were adapted from the popular myCompass mental health app, another Black Dog Institute initiative.
The research team conducted interviews and focus groups with people with intellectual disabilities, support workers and allied health professionals. Participants with intellectual disabilities were also observed using the app and gave feedback on the user experience.
Design considerations were based on clinical best practice guidelines and were informed by input from various user groups. Text was provided in Easy Read English and supplemented by extensive audio and visual media, while repetition of content was embedded throughout the modules to help consolidate learning.
Participants reported that the content was informative and accessible, and also identified a range of requirements that would enhance the Healthy Minds experience for users with varying needs. Suggestions included opportunities for more creative forms of interactivity, more frequent positive reinforcement within content, the use of multiple modalities to present information, and the addition of other information to support users in times of crisis.
This study demonstrates that incorporating flexibility and multiple options for engagement lie at the core of truly accessible digital technologies,” Boydell says.
“This feedback will help us to embrace the complexity of how people learn. Given that we’re dealing with complex, varied individuals, how then can we do our best to design these kinds of interventions and services and support that can best suit peoples’ needs?”
The Black Dog Institute is a leader in field of evidence-based online app development in the field of mental health. These research outcomes will shape the ongoing adaptation and improvement of the Healthy Mind platform and will inform strategies for its implementation and dissemination.
As well as contributing to the development of a valuable mental health resource, the research also makes a significant contribution to the lesser-explored fields of e-mental health and inclusive design for people with intellectual disabilities.
If you or someone you know is in crisis please call one of the following national helplines:
LIFELINE COUNSELLING SERVICE - 13 11 14
SUICIDE CALL BACK SERVICE 1300 659 467 (cost of a local call)