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Whitu: 7 ways in 7 days

Randomised controlled trial of a coping skills app to support the emotional wellbeing of young people during the Covid-19 pandemic

-Dr Anna Serlachius & Dr Hiran Thabrew, University of Auckland, Psychological Medicine

An app aimed at providing young New Zealanders with tools to help them tackle anxiety and depression is the focus of this research project, conducted by Dr Anna Serlachius, Dr Hiran Thabrew and their team.

Both mental health professionals, Dr Seralchius and Dr Thabrew believe that up to one million New Zealand young people aged 16 to 30 could benefit from an app supporting their mental health and well-being during a pandemic. The app they will develop looks to provide seven learning modules over a week, with each module providing coping mechanisms to tackle anxiety and depression.

Prior to Covid-19, New Zealand young people – especially those of Maori and Pacific ethnicity – experienced high rates of mental distress, and the country has the worst suicide rate (19.3 per 100,000 young people and 36.4 per 100,000 Maori) among OECD nations.

“Recent stresses related to rapid lockdown, physical isolation, disrupted academic routines and financial insecurity are likely to exacerbate pre-existing mental health issues and generate new ones,” Dr Serlachius explains.

“This project could improve the wellbeing, mental health and resilience of up to one million NZ young people in the short and long-term. A well-designed and cross-culturally acceptable app like ours could also reduce health inequities and could be economically beneficial by contributing to improved academic and workforce capability. Collaboration by mental health, e-health, Maori and Pacific Island researchers will strengthen existing cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary research linkage within NZ and provide a solid platform from which to develop new Maori research capability and international research collaboration.

As mental health professionals, both doctors have a strong interest in improving the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people and believe the prevention of downstream psychological issues associated with a pandemic such as Covid-19 is the most clinically significant issue they can be involved with.

“As e-Health researchers, we also believe that well-designed and evidence-based technology can help disseminate effective health messages to the one million NZ young people who need them,” confirmed Dr Seralchius.

“This funding will also help to develop our early career research knowledge skills within a multi-disciplinary project and it has the potential to extend to future international research collaboration. On a more personal level, we are proud to be part of the collective body of NZ scientists attempting to limit the physical and psychological consequences of Covid-19.”

Doctors Serlachius and Thabrew are Senior Lecturers in Psychological Medicine at Auckland University, and will collaborate with mental health, e-health, Maori and Pacific Island researchers to ensure the project reaches the target demographics effectively.

AMRF have awarded the team $98,281 in funding to support the project.

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