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An initiative of the Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcomes (CHEOS) at the University of British Columbia (UBC) supported by Bell Let’s Talk, WalkAlong is a web portal proposing a new approach to mental health for young Canadians.
Developed in conjunction with youth and expert health care professionals, WalkAlong.ca is an accessible platform to support Canadian youth in actively managing their overall health with a focus on depression, anxiety, and suicide. The website drives awareness and acts as a companion resource for youth–providing tools, information, and support to help them manage their well-being.
WalkAlong.ca offers a series of resources such as the Newsroom–providing current and relevant research information; Mind Steps–a series of quick and easy tips to improve one’s mood; Experiences–a publicly accessible collection of videos and stories of lived experiences; and the Locker–a private space to reflect on oneself, one’s journey, and ways to cope.
The LifeChart, pictured above, is a tool that helps youth track their mood, sleep, exercise, social activities, alcohol and substance use, and medication amongst other measures. It allows users to look at relationships between various behaviours and choices with mood changes and provide meaningful feedback that is useful in managing mental health.
In addition to the resources mentioned above, WalkAlong offers a series of assessments or screeners that are based on standard screening tools commonly used by health professionals to help diagnose general anxiety disorder and depression.
After answering the questions provided by the screeners, the user is presented with results, an explanation of these results and suggested pertinent resources. The CHEOS team needed the ability to change these screeners - and add new ones - in a user-friendly manner. The Drupal Quiz module provided a good framework for the required functionality, but also presented some challenges to non-technical site administrators.
Another important consideration for this project was the management of permissions and users privacy, due to the sensitive and personal information collected. The website combines private space with community space, and it was important that access be restricted to certain pieces of content.
Rather than using the Quiz module interface, our team extended its functionality by integrating Gherkin language to manage complex results calculations. Gherkin language is typically used in software development to describe a behaviour without detailing how that behaviour is implemented. It uses plain syntax that site administrators can easily master and utilize to “program” the quiz behaviours without any technical expertise.
The Locker is a key feature of the platform which allows users to privately store uploaded photos, videos, and text. A shared Pinterest-style Locker Stream also allows user to contribute constructive content to their community. Personal and networking spheres meet on one hybrid interface.
Walkalong is a successful attempt to provide integrated access to support for young people dealing with emotional challenges. It could become a learning and growing framework based on sophisticated content and technology.
Dr. Michael Krausz PHC Leadership chair for Addiction Research and project PI UBC ,
At the time of this post, WalkAlong.ca is still in public Beta. It received excellent feedback when presented at the 2013 Broadening the Scope: E-Mental Health Conference and the CHEOS team intends to “continue development of a cutting-edge, robust, comprehensive, and appropriate web resource.”