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Case Study: Use of Mental Health Apps by Essential Workers and Unemployed due to COVID-19

Access to mental health care by essential workers and the unemployed during the COVID19 pandemic has been challenging. Usual access to mental health care is limited by social distancing, and for many now unemployed due to closures of businesses, insurance is insufficient to cover the costs of mental health care. The aim of this project is to understand the use of mental health apps by these populations, and how well their needs are being met by what is on the market. Through our research, we have been able to determine the acceptability, feasibility, usability, and effectiveness of mobile mental health apps for addressing risk factors associated with suicide risk in essential workers and unemployed individuals.

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Julie A. Kientz is a Professor and Chair of the department of Human Centered Design & Engineering at the University of Washington. She directs the Computing for Healthy Living and Learning Lab, is active in the Design, Use, Build (dub) alliance, and has adjunct appointments in The Information School and Computer Science & Engineering. Dr. Kientz’s primary research areas are in the fields of Human-Computer Interaction, Ubiquitous Computing, and Health Informatics.

Her research focuses on understanding and reducing the user burdens of interactive technologies for health and education through the design of future applications. She has designed, developed, and evaluated mobile, sensor, and social applications for helping individuals with sleep problems, parents of young children tracking developmental progress, adolescents with mild-to-moderate depression, people who want to quit smoking, and special education teachers working with children with autism. Her primary research methods involve human-centered design, technology development, and a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods.

Dr. Kientz received her Ph.D. in Computer Science from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2008. She was awarded a National Science Foundation CAREER Award in 2009, named an MIT Technology Review Innovator Under 35 in 2013, and was given the UW College of Engineering Faculty Research Innovator award in 2014 and Teaching Innovator award in 2019.

ALACRITY Center’s New Study Aims to Address Social Isolation in Seniors During COVID-19

The ALACRITY Center is taking on a new project in response to COVID-19, “Stay Connected: developing an intervention to promote mental health among isolated senior housing residents”. Leading the project are Patrick Raue, PhD, Patricia Areán, PhD, and Brenna Renn, PhD. 

We will work with senior housing residents experiencing social distancing challenges to design a remote program to address risk factors associated with depression, anxiety and social isolation. The project will also consider the needs of housing staff promoting the health and well‐being of their residents, and address the insufficient workforce of geriatric mental health providers by utilizing Bachelor’s-level providers.

The study was funded through the UW Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Small Grants Program.