Mental illness can be self-managed through computer-based techniques (e-smart-MH) by young adults who are already very familiar with the use of technology devices in their daily lives.
"Roughly one in every five young adults between 18 and 25 has a mental illness," said Melissa Pinto-Foltz, a postdoctoral scholar and instructor at the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University.
"Young adults accept technology as part of their lives and are comfortable interacting with it. This project seemed like a natural extension of what they are already doing every day," Pinto-Foltz said.
With growing independence in schools and colleges, they are required to manage mental illness independently, and they struggle. They must manage stigma associated with mental illness, stay on medications and keep medical appointments in order to optimize mental health.
The eSMART-HD technology simulates patient-provider dialogues, creating a virtual world that can teach patients how to interact with virtual health care providers that include nurses, counsellors and doctors.
Avatars (virtual health care providers) in a virtual environment will interact with them, to be used as virtual health care providers and mimic the facial expressions, language, and gestures common to real providers.
The technology guides the patient through interactions with virtual providers, and whenever the communication hits a rough spot, virtual coaches pop up to guide the patient.
The next step in developing eSMART-MH involves Pinto-Foltz and her team examining the acceptability of eSMART-MH with a small number of young adults who are 18-25 years of age.
"Our goal is to teach young adults how to interact with their health care providers to get what they need to manage mental illness," said Pinto-Foltz.