Ulster University (UK) Action Mental Health Partners With Ulster University To Deliver 24/7 Service To Those In Need

Research by Ulster University has led to a new means of delivering 24/7 mental health support being adopted by leading mental health charity, Action Mental Health.

The three-year research project was coordinated by researchers from Ulster University who oversaw the development of a multilingual mental wellbeing chatbot. The ChatPal chatbot can be accessed at any time of day by those in need, aiming to promote positive mental health and wellbeing – while preventing mental ill health – through engaging dialogue and psychoeducation.

Available in four languages; Swedish, Finnish, Scottish Gaelic and English, ChatPal has been co-designed with both end users and mental health professionals from across Europe. Partners of the project include Action Mental Health, NHS Western Isles, Luleå University of Technology, Munster Technological University, and University of Eastern Finland.

Welcoming news of the new digital solution to help combat mental ill health, Northern Ireland Mental Health Champion, Professor Siobhan O’Neill of Ulster University, said:

“This research and the development of the ChatPal service aligns with several elements of Northern Ireland’s new 10-year Mental Health Strategy. It is a collaboration between mental health service providers and academics, and the package has been co-designed with service users. The expansion of digital mental health is an important action within the strategy and this project demonstrates the value of digital interventions in the ways in which technology can be harnessed to support people who may be struggling.”

Having availed of the ChatPal chatbot service, user Jacqueline Jackson said:

“I thought I wouldn’t like it at first because it was digital and I am not fully skilled in this area, so I was a bit nervous about using it but actually I found it very easy to use. This app is very helpful and thought-provoking. Personally, I found it enabling and a good source for self-help and motivation – I liked that it gave me some very useful tips. I found the whole experience of using the chatbot helpful and used it every day as part of a wee routine for myself. I did not experience any difficulties, and on the whole my experience was positive and I would recommend that people try this method of support before dismissing it as an option. It is worth a try.”

Speaking about adopting ChatPal to help clients on resilience programmes, Chief Executive of Action Mental Health, David Babington said:
“ChatPal has made a significant contribution to Action Mental Health’s understanding of chatbots and the use of digital technology in support of mental health services. The ChatPal chatbot has now been integrated into our services, having dedicated resources and promotional activities to support ongoing client engagement. Importantly it has had an increasingly beneficial impact on our clients who have mental health issues, by reducing isolation and reassuring them about where they can find support. It has also given them greater confidence in using this type of digital intervention.”

A leading academic in the ChatPal project, Raymond Bond, Professor of Human Computer Systems at Ulster University, said:
“This research highlights the importance of collaborative working and the transformative nature of using digital solutions to improve mental wellbeing and prevent mental ill health. We have worked closely with partners over a three-year period on this project and are delighted to see Action Mental Health now offering the ChatPal service to its clients.”

The research has in part led to Ulster University and Action Mental Health together securing a Knowledge Transfer Partnership for the digital transformation of the latter’s services, funded by Innovate UK. This will help the charity explore embedding further digital mental health interventions across services, with support from Ulster University.

The ChatPal chatbot is freely available for organisations to integrate into their current service offering and the project team have also published a book to help guide other organisations through designing their own healthcare chatbots. The chatbot dialogues and psychoeducational content can be accessed in four languages and are also freely available to be re-used or re-purposed.

You can download the ChatPal chatbot on Google Play Store and Apple Store, and download the ChatPal book here.