Challenge research at Paliamentary showcase

22 February 2018

A Challenge-funded research project to develop a gamified e-health tool to help teens experiencing anxiety, stress and depression, was selected for a showcase of the country’s best public sector digital technologies hosted at the Beehive on 21 February.

Called HABITs, for Health Advances through Behavioural Intervention Technologies, the research is developing a gamified smartphone app to teach resilience and emotional regulation. The app draws on proven cognitive behavioural therapy and has been co-designed with high-school students.

The Challenge project is part of a suite of digital e-health tools including SPARX an online avatar fantasy base game for adolescent depression and Play Kindly, developed by Samoan creators to help parents support social and emotional development in young children.

The research team is led by Professor Sally Merry of the University of Auckland’s School of Medicine. She said it was an honour for the research to be selected as a highlight of public sector digital technologies for the D5 Summit, the regular gathering of the five digitally advanced nations, hosted this year by New Zealand.

She said, “We need these tools because more than half of our young people with mental health difficulties never get help. They find it hard to ask for help, services aren’t always youth friendly or easy to get to. There can be long waits with mental health services at capacity. Gamified interventions make evidence based therapy available to any young person with a smartphone or computer.”

Professor Merry said the goal was to create and make accessible a range of effective e-mental health tools to young people to make a real impact at a national level.

The D5 Showcase featured 14 exhibits, featuring virtual reality, artificial intelligence, 3D holograms and online gaming for health.


Fact box

·         A Better Start is one of 11 National Science Challenges bringing a more strategic approach to research investment. A Better Start’s mission is to focus on research that will enable our children to live healthy and successful lives.

·         A Better Start has four strategic research themes: Healthy Weight, Resilient Teens, Successful Literacy and Learning, and Big Data

·         The D5 consist of Estonia, Israel, South Korea, the United Kingdom and New Zealand

·         SPARX is available for everyone in New Zealand under funding from the Ministry of Health.