West of England Academic Health Science Network (2019-2022)
The Future Challenges Programme: MiHub
The West of England Academic Health Science Network, ProReal, Wiltshire Council and the B&NeS, Swindon and Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group worked together and used virtual reality technology to supplement current mental health approaches. The MiHUB partnership project aims to help young people set out visual representations of everyday situations, and in doing it can help them to express complex thoughts and feelings and help build resilience for later in life.
How the programme works
MiHUB capitalises on ProReal’s established immersive, avatar-based virtual world platform. The platform offers young people a choice of specific situations or problems that they are finding challenging. They are then guided to build visual representations of how they, and others, see the world. The technology helps them to describe their thoughts and feelings as well as take other perspectives, and this can help with different ‘real world’ decisions and choices.
Royal Wootton Bassett Academy in Wiltshire, supported by Wiltshire Council and Wiltshire CCG trialled MIHUB with a range of students from Years 7, 8 and 9.
The first phase of the trial involved co-production with the students, allowing young people to work closely with ProReal’s developers to refine and test the platform, focusing on their needs and preferences. The second stage allowed the students to fully explore the self-help modules and provides the opportunity for detailed evaluation. Young people will also be able to access additional support from others as well as online wellbeing resources as appropriate.
Building an evidence base
MiHUB is one of two projects piloted under the theme of ‘Young People and Mental Health Resilience’ which forms part of the Future Challenges programme. This programme, works closely with innovators and local partners including clinicians, commissioners and the chosen trial sites to pilot their innovations and evaluate them in a real-world setting, building evidence to support possible future commissioning decisions and opportunities.
We also worked with the Wessex Centre for Implementation Science to independently evaluate this project.
- MiHUB was deemed acceptable and worthwhile by students and staff, which is considered a strength, given school-based interventions can be found to have good outcomes but with low user-acceptability.
- Students were engaged with the resource, were interested in making comments about it and most felt that it would be useful for either themselves or others.
- The school also felt positive about the resource; they believed it complemented existing teaching and support, and asked to have extended access, beyond the trial period.
- The project did not cause any known harm during implementation, which some anticipated may occur with unsupervised access at home.
- While use of MiHUB (as an optional resource to be used independently) cannot be shown to improve mental wellbeing or resilience from our evaluation, it may provide an additional resource to engage young people in conversations and reflections about their mental health and related issues.
- Potential staff concerns about safeguarding should be addressed early in implementation (students highlighted confidentiality as a benefit), with appropriate training to address any underpinning staff assumptions that an intervention may not work, as these will undoubtably affect implementation success.