How online training can help with psychological stress
Chair of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy at FAU involved in three international projects
Research and statistics show that mental strain at work, while studying or at home has increased in recent years. This stress and strain makes itself apparent in anxiety or a tendency towards depression and has a negative impact on the lives of those affected. The Chair of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy at FAU is involved in three international research projects aimed at providing online training options for those affected by mental health issues, evaluating the effectiveness of these options on a global scale and encouraging their use in the care of sufferers.
StudiCare – how are students coping?
StudiCare is a web-based survey panel that has been used since 2016 to assess the mental wellbeing of undergraduate students in various countries. The survey, part of the World Mental Health International College Student Initiative (WMH-ICS), is carried out under the umbrella of the WHO (World Health Organisation) and is coordinated by Harvard University. Further universities in the USA and Europe are also involved. They are members of the Caring Universities project and aim to improve the range of online resources for coping with psychological stress, leading to a lasting improvement in students’ mental health. In Germany, the Chair of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy at FAU is collaborating closely with the other members of the panel, Universität Ulm and the health insurance provider BARMER. ‘In addition to the survey, various online training resources which have been developed and researched within the framework of the StudiCare project are available to students. They are divided into special areas such as excessive internet use, procrastination or social anxiety. This allows us to address the participants’ individual needs and lets us take a more targeted approach to problems’, explains Fanny Kählke, who is involved in the project on behalf of FAU. A basic scaffold for the student survey is provided to the institutions involved in the initiative, but it can be adapted to suit the cultural situation in the respective countries. The newly-gathered knowledge can be used to assess the need for support services, improve existing advisory services and develop new online-based interventions – across the globe.
ICare Prevent – what precautionary measures can I take to avoid depression and anxiety?
Helping people to help themselves is also the concept behind ICare Prevent. ICare Prevent is a seven-week online training course which, unlike StudiCare, is targeted at anyone who wants to improve their mental wellbeing, not just students. The online training course is part of the Horizon 2020 programme funded by the EU, and is being offered by FAU, Universität Zürich, Universität Bern and universities in the Netherlands and Spain. The training is offered to 1000 participants, who then assess the measures offered. The data is collected anonymously and used to evaluate the effectiveness of the measures. Participants complete one training module per week over a seven-week period. ‘The modules are aimed at preventing anxiety and depression. First of all, participants should try to integrate activities which they enjoy or think they might enjoy into their daily routine. By keeping a diary, they can see which activities help and which don’t’, explain Kiona Weisel and Anna-Carlotta Zarski, project coordinators at FAU. ‘The aim of online training is for participants to improve their own wellbeing by completing lessons aimed at boosting their mood with positive reinforcement’, says Anna-Carlotta Zarski.
ImpleMentAll (IMA) – how can web-based health programmes be integrated into healthcare?
Unfortunately, web-based interventions for mental strain such as those offered by StudiCare and ICare Prevent are not currently available across the board in the healthcare sector. The ImpleMentAll project funded by the European Commission in collaboration with GET.ON online health training, the social insurance provider for the forestry, agricultural and gardening industry (SVLFG) and FAU hope to change this. A number of studies have proven that internet-based health programmes addressing mental disorders can have an extremely positive effect on sufferers. ‘However, these services are only very rarely offered as part of routine healthcare. Our aim is therefore to find out what obstacles there are to using internet-based health programmes, discover how to circumvent or remove these obstacles and explore which methods work particularly well in this context’, explains Ingrid Titzler, who is coordinating the project on behalf of FAU and GET.ON. In order to do so, implementation strategies for web-based prevention and treatment options are to be tested at 12 locations in Europe and Australia by 2021.
Within the context of the research project, the ‘ItFitsToolkit – integrated theory-based framework for intervention tailoring strategies’ is being used at FAU. The toolkit is a customised self-help tool aimed at improving the effectiveness of the web-based training options offered to those insured by SVLFG as part of the prevention campaign ‘Keep in balance with us’. ‘As well as providing local health services, the SVLFG also offers easily accessible options such as telephone hotlines and web-based services. The project is aimed at people who are directly involved in developing and executing implementation activities and staff involved in allocating these services to those covered by health insurance’, says Ingrid Titzler
The three research projects in the area of e-mental-health once more underline the strong international focus of research at FAU and the global connections enjoyed by its researchers.