Creating healthier futures for ill children

Triumf Health forms a strong research consortium to measure the behavioural impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak

Triumf Health is incredibly proud to have formed a consortium in collaboration with University of Tartu, University of Tampere and Uppsala University to respond to the European Commision’s call SC1-PHE-CORONAVIRUS-2020-2C: Behavioural, social and economic impacts of the outbreak response. The goal of the project is to use digital health platform Triumf to assess the prevalence of mental health problems and provide high-quality, evidence-based psychological support for children: a successful deployment allows the consortium to map the mental health status of children across the EU and provide psychological support based on individual psychological profiles in an age-appropriate manner. We elaborate on the problem the consortium is tackling below.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has critically impacted the wellbeing of national healthcare systems in the European Union (EU) and the wellbeing of individual citizens alike. Member states have to simultaneously navigate the considerable threat to human life, healthcare system capacity and economic distress this pandemic has caused. The focus of the national and EU-wide response has thus far centred on the acute threat to life of individuals at risk for the COVID-19, however, we are quickly closing on the window of opportunity to mitigate the severe long-term harm caused by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on individual psychosocial wellbeing across all age group. A significant increase in mental health disorders during and after the crisis is expected. Already now, based on a survey conducted in March 2020, 64% of adults reported to be anxious or depressed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These numbers are already now higher than the average and health care institutions warn us of a global spike in mental health disorders, with children and adolescents among the most vulnerable groups.

Psychological distress experienced by adults has a long-lasting and severely harmful impact on the children and adolescents in their vicinity. Known in the field of pediatric medicine as adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress, this kind of instability in childhood is the strongest predictor of long-term chronic health problems, a reduction in earning potential in adulthood and of chronic psychosocial distress. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee of the United Nations and the World Health Organisation both identify the need for special attention on supporting the mental health needs of children and young people during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, data on the impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health is severely lacking.

Timely intervention is of the essence at this stage and aligned with a timeline that has been proposed to optimise the delivery of psychosocial care and services during crisis situations. In the context of the pandemic evolvement, EU member states have entered The Medium-Term Recovery Phase, which follows the rescue phase. This stage offers a prime opportunity to focus on preventing the development of mental health issues. Preventing rather than treating existing problems is significantly more cost-effective, provided that the interventions are targeted and effective. In fact, 5-11 times higher return can be obtained on every euro invested in prevention.

However, existing healthcare services fall short in their ability to prevent long-term negative impact on child and adolescent health. Traditional psychosocial support for children and adolescents is lacking in many member states and is difficult to implement at a scale where it does exist. There is a severe mismatch between the need for support and the number of mental health experts trained to prevent or manage those conditions and a general lack of psychosocial support designed specifically with the needs and preferences of children and adolescents in mind. Consequently, only one in four children with mental health issues receives treatment at the moment.

Digital health solutions provide a unique opportunity to meet the mental health care and psychosocial support needs of children and adolescents during this pandemic and beyond. Uhlaas and Torous (2019) argue that digital health is highly relevant when it comes to child and adolescent mental health in two fundamental aspects: detection of emerging mental health issues and providing youth-friendly treatment. Digital tools also serve as a valuable medium in overcoming the barriers to participation in traditional psychological care (such as stigma). As such, there is an urgent need to deploy digital tools to mitigate the pandemic impact on children’s and adolescent mental and psychosocial health.

Based on the above, the digital health platform Triumf is deployed to reach out to children through a game environment. The solution delivers digital therapeutics (DTx) through a mobile game environment. The solution has been developed primarily to improve the mental wellbeing and quality of life of children and early adolescents (7- 14 years). In response to COVID-19 pandemic, the platform has been extended in close collaboration with the biggest healthcare provider in Estonia. While the underlying algorithms for supporting the health and wellbeing of children have remained the same, further features have been added to support children under the current stressful circumstances. The extension was immediately deployed as a free public health service to accommodate the needs of children during lockdown and to overcome many of the usual systemic barriers to implementing digital health services. The need for support was evident, within a couple of days of the deployment, the DTx platform was among top solutions on Google Play.

Objectives

The main objective is to evaluate the impact of the DTx platform Triumf deployment as a free public service across the EU. In addition, the consortium will estimate the economic and societal impact of the deployment and evaluate the effect on individuals. Deployment of such a comprehensive platform creates a truly novel opportunity for the consortium to carry out disruptive research in a vulnerable group of people with the possibility of advancing research fields in using digital health to monitor and support mental health, gamification and health economics.

We're very thankful to our academic partners of this consortium for their collaboration and input.

Author

Kaari Kink

Author

Kaari Kink

With her background in health sciences and physical activity, she brings expertise in inducing behavioral change.