A Swansea University researcher has developed a unique way to help build psychological resilience in young people, utilising gamification of mental health interventions and embedded learning.
Dr Darren Edwards from the School of Health and Social Care, in line with Welsh Government mental health policies such as Together for Mental Health, has applied and transferred the knowledge of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) into a publicly accessible video game called ACTing Minds.
The game, funded by AgorIP through the Welsh Government and the European Regional Development Fund, seeks to address a range of issues, including access to mental health support, especially for young people.
According to the Wales Governance Centre, the number of individuals experiencing severe mental health problems has risen from 11.7% pre-pandemic to 28.1% by April 2020, making accessible resources like ACTing Minds invaluable.
Lead developer and researcher Dr Darren Edwards, Senior Lecturer in Public Health at Swansea University, said: “We need to develop mental health interventions that are both accessible and engaging for young people.
“Building mental health skills and resilience early in life is crucial in reducing the overall mental health problem we see today.”
Dr Edwards collaborated with Miracle Tea Studios Ltd, a British independent games studio, to develop the game, which sets the scene for a deeply personal story about someone who recently lost his wife in a tragic accident.
Throughout the game, players learn they need to accept their loss and orient their lives toward what is meaningful to them rather than suppressing thoughts and avoiding painful memories.
Players are drawn into the game dynamics, using reinforcement learning and gamification to reward behaviours that lead to increased psychological flexibility, a crucial process in ACT.
Points are then awarded based on a ‘Psychoflexameter’ – a scale of psychological flexibility.
Research on ACTing Minds is ongoing and is currently in the feasibility stage described in a recently published BMJ Open protocol, a collaboration between Dr Edwards and Professor Andrew Kemp from the School of Psychology at Swansea University.
The game has received excellent responses from users, both members of the public and mental health clinicians, and is already being applied in mental health clinics around the world.
Dr Darren Edwards said: “ACTing Minds marks the first of its kind for developing a full complex psychological intervention in a game.
“While simpler games such as mindfulness and headspace have been available, we at Swansea University have sought to push the boundaries in the digital health arena.
“Mental health issues form part of a silent epidemic. So, accessible videogames and other interventions that teach young people about mental health early, and reduce stigma, are important.”
To learn more or play ACTing Minds, visit the Apple App store.