Children as young as five could soon be able to access a new online assessment tool that aims to recognise potential mental health problems.
The web-based app developed at USQ allows children to identify emotional and behavioural difficulties they might be experiencing so that families, educators and health professionals can provide early assistance.
The app uses colourful animated characters to convey emotions and behaviours. Children simply click on the character that seems most like them, making it interactive and understandable to most children.
USQ’s Research Program Director of Innovative Mental Health Solutions, Associate Professor Sonja March said the tool, expected to be launched next year, would be the first online self-reported screening measure available for primary school-aged children.
“Often children don’t have the words to explain to a grown up that they’re feeling worried, sad or anxious,” she said.
“This screening tool will give them a voice through the use of child-friendly animations presented in an engaging and easy-to-use format instead of through written questions.”
Associate Professor March said without intervention, children experiencing emotional and behavioural difficulties are at a higher risk of developing mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety.
“By allowing families, mental health professionals and educators to obtain this information directly from the child at the earliest opportunity, it can red flag potential difficulties, provide instant feedback and recommendations for further assessment, and provide a path to intervention if necessary,” she said.
Project leader and PhD candidate Kirsty Zieschank said children’s input and feedback was crucial in the development of the app. Over two years, she worked with 80 children to co-design the 30 animations used in the screening tool to ensure they were accurate and meaningful to children.
Ms Zieschank is now seeking parents with children aged five to 11 to participate in the final part of the web-app’s testing phase before it can be launched.
Participation involves one parent and their child completing a survey and then testing the app.
To take part, visit http://bit.ly/KidResearch.
For more information about the project, visit www.facebook.com/ICDSResearch/ or contact Kirsty at Kirsty.Zieschank@usq.edu.au.
Lewis Kreutzer worked with project leader Kirsty Zieschank during the development of the app.