Current Research: Benefits of Pokémon Go

Myself and Dr Catherine Flick are currently carrying out research into the mental health benefits of playing Pokémon Go! We’re interviewing players in the field, and also asking people to complete an online survey, which can be found at: https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/PokemonMH

The below is detailed information about the research that you may want to consider before taking part. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us!

What is the study about?

Pokémon Go took the world by storm following its launch in summer 2016. As well as being a fun game to play there have been some reports of it encouraging exercise, social interaction, and improving the mental health of players. This study is looking at what mental health benefits players receive from Pokémon Go, and to understand how the format of the game itself contributes to this (if at all).

What does the study involve?

We are asking individuals who play Pokémon Go to complete an online questionnaire. This will ask about your experiences of playing Pokémon Go, if you feel it has benefitted you in any way, and what form those benefits have taken. As the research is related to mental health, the questionnaires will touch on this subject. However, you do not have to disclose any personal information that you do not feel comfortable sharing, and do not have to answer the questions if you do not wish to.

Why have I been chosen?

We are approaching Pokémon Go players through various online communities to take part in the questionnaire.

Do I have to take part?

It is up to you to decide whether or not to take part.  If you do decide to take part you will be given this information sheet to read and be asked to sign a consent form.  If you decide to take part you are still free to withdraw at any time and without giving a reason.

What if I agree to take part and then change my mind?

You can withdraw from the study at any time, without giving a reason, through non-completion of the questionnaire. As survey data is anonymous, we will not be able to remove any of the information following the completion of the survey. But individuals will not be able to be identified by any of the data.

What are the possible disadvantages and risks of taking part?

As the work is discussing mental health, there is the possibility that some individuals may find this upsetting or triggering. We have ensured that all participants will be fully informed of the topic before deciding if they want to take part or not. Additionally the questions are phrased so that individuals do not have to disclose mental health needs if they do not wish to. Additionally, if participation is difficult or distressing, one of the research team is a mental health first aider, and can provide support if needed.

What are the possible benefits of taking part?

Aside from getting to talk about what you enjoy about playing Pokémon Go, the research hopes to identify specific aspects of this type of game that support individuals mental health. By improving understanding of these issues, there is the possibility of improving support regarding mental health.

What if something goes wrong? / Who can I complain to?

If you have a complaint regarding anything to do with this study, you can initially approach the lead investigator.  If this achieves no satisfactory outcome, you should then contact the Administrator for the Faculty Research Ethics Committee, Research & Commercial Office, Faculty of Health & Life Sciences, 1.25 Edith Murphy House, De Montfort University, The Gateway, Leicester, LE1 9BH or hlsfro@dmu.ac.uk

Will my taking part in this study be kept confidential?

All information which is collected about you during the course of the research will be kept on a password protected database and is strictly confidential. You will be given a pseudonym which will be used instead of your name. Any identifiable information you may give will be removed and anonymized, and all quoted materials will have all identifying information removed.

What will happen to the results of the research study?

It is hoped that a number of journal articles will be written from the findings of this work, which may be accessible to you. If you would like to be informed of the outcomes of the study and any writings that follow, please let a member of the research team know and we will keep you informed.

Who is organising and funding the research?

The research is being organised and funded by De Montfort University.

Who has reviewed the study?

This study has been reviewed and approved by De Montfort University, Faculty of Health and Life Sciences Research Ethics Committee.

Contact for Further Information

If you have further questions or would like to discuss any aspect of the research, please contact Catherine Flick: cflick@dmu.ac.uk or Jessica Urwin: Jessica.urwin3@dmu.ac.uk

Thank you!

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World Mental Health Day 2016

Today is World Mental Health Day, and many people on my social media feeds are talking about it. Most of it is great! Some of it is not. I wanted to write a brief something to address some of the things I have seen today, to try and help people understand a little of what it is like to have mental health needs, and also to get some of the frustration at seeing these posts out of my own head. I am wiring this in the spur of the moment, so if there are holes, or it’s not fully thought out, please forgive.  This example is probably very UK-centric, if you know of something that is similar from other cultures/countries, please let me know.

Have you ever played a party game where a bar of chocolate was placed on a plate, a timer started, and you had a minute to eat as much as you could? Oh, and you’re wearing an oversized hat, scarf, gloves, and have to use a knife and fork. It’s a fun game, but also really frustrating! If you’ve ever played this (and I’m pretty sure that most children/people who grew up in Britain have played this at least once), you’ll know how difficult it actually is to try and cut up a cold bar of chocolate with a butter knife. If you’ve never played it, why not give it a go at your next party?

This game is a pretty good analogy for having mental health needs. You want to do a specific thing (whether it’s eating chocolate, or just getting on with your life), and there’s something that makes it heaps more difficult. Maybe you’re only wearing the gloves, maybe you have the full outfit plus a winter coat and your knife and fork are made of plastic. There are different difficulty settings. But the outcome is that it makes it harder to do the thing you wanted to.

Some people who haven’t played this game might be asking, why wouldn’t you just throw off the gloves, ignore the cutlery, and stuff your face with chocolate? Well, in the children’s party game, that would be cheating and you’d quickly find you weren’t invited to play any other games in the future. In terms of the analogy, maybe you’re not lucky enough to be able to “just” take off all that stuff. Those gloves are really stuck on, and sometimes wearing them is enough of a restriction that you can’t take them off yourself. You might come up with some strategies to manage with the gloves on, but it takes more effort on your part, and can be pretty tiring.

Imagine if this wasn’t just for a children’s party game, but for every meal you ate. You don’t get different cutlery, you have to keep all the winter accessories on all the time. Soup would become a distant luxury. Eating would be hard. Which would make everything else a bit harder too, because you’re tired. Having to use extra energy to manage the impediment caused by the gloves/hat/scarf etc. means you have less energy to do other stuff, like focus during conversations. Or you might start to plan your meals well in advance so that you know you’ll be able to take your time while eating, that takes energy too and restricts your time, so you can’t do other things.

Having a mental health need is not a choice, and if it could be easily overcome, people would definitely choose that option! If those gloves could be taken off, they would. So please, have a little consideration before you say to someone “just get over it! It’s not a big deal!” or proceeding to tell them how easily your own gloves came off. You wouldn’t do that to someone with a broken leg, so please don’t try to create hierarchies of illness.  Maybe you don’t realise that you might be wearing privilege earmuffs. Instead, on world mental health day (and on every day), ask, “can I help you with that?” and listen to the response.

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The Joy of Ethics

I really enjoy completing ethics forms. Everyone I have told this to gives me a slightly bemused look and says “really?”, and then quickly changes the subject. But I do. I find completing ethics forms satisfying and exciting. It means the beginning of a new project, which is always the fun bit. I like deciding what questions I want to ask and reading the literature to find the gaps. I like considering what methods would be best, whilst not having got to the headaches that sometimes come with the practicalities of carrying them out. I like considering ethical quandaries, and as someone who shouts about social justice a lot, I like thinking about how to make the work I do stand up to those principles. I enjoy all of the preparatory work of research, and for me the ethics submission is the culmination of it all.

Considering what issues might come up in research projects and how we can either avoid them or overcome them is the heart of considering ethics applications. How can we ensure research does no harm? By thinking about how others will be affected by what we say and do. I enjoy this kind of work because it is the application of the principles that I claim as a gold standard. I might not always be able to do it perfectly, but I enjoy the challenge and find it a good way of planning out what I want out of my research and what the best way to do it is.

At the moment I’m doing some planning for a research project that requires a third party to distribute questionnaires at specific events, collect them and then returns copies to the research team, alongside contact details for the participants. How to do this in a way that is secure, confidential, maintains anonymity, and ensures that nothing gets lost or missed is my current quandary. It’s like a Professor Layton puzzle that counts as work! What’s not to love? it also means that I have to figure out the logistics of the research now rather than later, and as I am both a worrier and a planner, this suits me down to the ground.

One of the specific ethical issues I always try to consider when planning research is accessibility. Can I create the research materials in different formats so that people with disability or different levels of ability can be involved? Do I need to consider language barriers in the work? A past project involved some work in Wales, and so all the materials had to be translated into Welsh. No one asked for them in Welsh, but we were prepared if they did. Ensuring that research can be accessed by as many people as possible is positive, as it means samples are more inclusive, and new perspectives may be uncovered. Additionally, as much of my work focuses on social work and mental health, ensuring that researcher considers accessibility is consistent with these areas and the values they embody.

A lot of my research work (and teaching work) is very paper oriented; questionnaires, consent forms, information sheets, all are usually printed or online. In future I’d like to find other formats for these types of research tools to greater improve accessibility. If any of you have come across strategies for this or have experience of it, please let me know!

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Mental Health Support, Communities, and Reddit

I’ve never really been a Reddit user; I don’t have an account, but I occasionally read some stuff there. In the past 2 weeks I’ve spent some time lurking at Reddit’s Radiohead sub. I’m a fan of Radiohead, and wanted to hear what other people were saying about the new album, and so on. Reddit is made up of sub-forums based on specific interests and topics, and the most popular/commented on/controversial posts may also get posted on the main page. Reddit often gets criticised for allowing specific subs to exist, particularly around hate groups, discriminatory views, or general unpleasantness (I’m not linking to any, if you’re interested, I’m sure you can find them), and generally Redditors have something of a bad-rep online.

All of this meant I was pleasantly surprised by r/Radiohead. In amongst the general fandom, the HYPE TRAIN, and speculation about when the album would come out, what songs would be on it and so on, was a really supportive community. Every so often would be a post where someone would allude to difficulties in their life, mental health needs, or occasionally, suicide, and the responses were all really supportive; expressing concern and understanding. One post in particular has stuck in my mind, where the poster suggested that they “wouldn’t make it” to the album release, and were essentially saying goodbye to the other fans in the sub. The responses were heartening to see, people offering to talk, suggesting support options, and asking the poster to not hurt themselves. This made me think about the value of online shared interest groups as support networks, and how this often gets overlooked.

Online mental health support resources are becoming more commonplace, with Mind’s Elefriends being a good example. But one of the issues that resources like this have to overcome is the stigma attached to accessing mental health support. Pretty much all of the resources I’ve come across had “mental health support” or variations of the phrase in big letters, which is useful in allowing people to find it, but may also put others off. So shared interest communities, like r/Radiohead, may seem like a safer place for individuals to open up and admit their struggles; as it’s not a mental health resource, and it can be anonymous, there’s no risk to individuals of being sectioned, or their friends/family in “real life” judging them.

In my work I have often come across people who view being online, and particularly talking to others online, as a “risk”. As someone who has pretty consistently used the internet since I was 13, this seems very strange to me. Yes, some people do use the internet for nefarious purposes, but more often than not, you will find people like those in r/Radiohead, who will respond to a distressed and potentially suicidal internet stranger with “I understand how you’re feeling, but please don’t do that. From one fan to another, I want you to stay here”, and I find that heartening. We need to view online shared interest communities in the way that we would “real world” shared interest communities. These are still social networks that individuals choose to spend time with and build connections with. Given all the evidence for support networks and communities as a benefit to individuals mental health, recognising the value that online communities can bring is important, and might be an effective way of allowing people to access support.

We’re more likely to be influenced by our peers than others groups, and often “peers” has meant people from similar social backgrounds that we have commonalities with. There is an argument that this could be changing due to the prevalence of online communities. The people I went to school with would generally be considered as my “peers”, but I didn’t have very much in common at all with a large number of them, and chose my friends based on shared interests. The internet allows us to find those shared interest groups much more easily, and somewhat negates the similar social background aspect of the definition of “peers”. The internet allows individuals from all over the world to create communities that aren’t impacted by class/race/age etc. and so can change who your peers may be.

I can see value in these shared communities as sources of support, and whilst the advice these individuals can offer may not go beyond giving out the number to the Samaritans, having a peer group that can act as a safe space may help individuals at risk of harm to access more formalised support.

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Five Years Time

My very good friend Ruth recently posted on her blog about the dreaded question “where do you want to be in five years?”, and wondered why “anywhere with good biscuits” was not an appropriate answer. She is an all round excellent person, and you should go and read her writing. When I saw her post I felt a little smug within myself that I don’t have to answer the “five years” question, or so I thought.

Academic planning is an important thing, otherwise we risk becoming stagnant, and not doing the things we want/need to. But as well, it means considering what we want to be doing in five years time. A form I recently had to fill in had exactly this question on it. Other than researching stuff, teaching stuff, and wearing snazzy jumpers, I had no idea of what to say. I’m currently an Early Career Researcher (ECR), and only 6 months in to my current job, which to me means I’m still figuring things out and trying to decide where I fit into the academic system as a whole.

But the form would not relent, and the question remained; what are my research plans for the next five years? So I had to think on it and work out some stuff that I wanted to do. I know that the big daydream style plans of winning a Nobel Prize probably aren’t going to happen (at least not in the next five years); I’m not even sure if there is a Nobel Prize for social science. So what else would I like to do? Write a book, present a BBC4 documentary about justice, spill things less. One of those seems possible, so onto the form it went. It was the book. I’m doomed to a life of spilled drinks.

In terms of specific research projects, I was a little stumped. I’d been so wrapped up in my thesis for a long time that I couldn’t really see other possible projects. But there were some questions that my thesis didn’t answer, so I wrote those down too. There were some other things that I’m interested in as well, but hadn’t really acted on either, which I realised I now could, even if they seemed a little silly. Yes, I’m shoehorning ways to shout about Superman into my job. It’s entirely fine and very grown-up.

The idea of planning out five years was daunting and seemed far too big at first. Now I’ve committed myself to doing a whole bunch of stuff within that time frame, I’m not sure it’s enough. But “where do you want to be in five years time” is definitely not a fun question still. I understanding the need to put time lines to things, but we might get a better response from people if instead we asked what their goals were, or what things they wanted to achieve overall in their work. I couldn’t answer the question without thinking about what I’m interested in, and how I could act on those things, so to me those are more useful approaches of helping people figure out what they want to do.

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The Imposter!

A while ago I wrote about imposter syndrome. My main knowledge of his previously had come from blogs and other online commentators, all generally talking about imposterism in an informal and anecdotal way. Lately I’ve been looking into the academic literature about imposter syndrome, or imposter phenomenon (IP) as it is sometimes called. This has been really interesting for me, and makes for quite fun reading. I’m a big fan of qualitative work that talks about he lived experience in an engaging way, which a lot of this work does. There’s a big focus on IP amongst academics and students, it makes sense that of a group of professionals prone to introspection we’d be big on discussing our feelings of fraudulence. There seems to be less work on how IP affects professionals in applied fields, or how prevalent IP is amongst these groups.

When I say professions in applied fields, I’m referring to professions that have an application to or direct impact on other’s lives. Do surgeons feel like frauds? Would it stop them from doing their work? How about social workers? I’m interested in if the people who feel like imposters don’t go into certain fields, or if having a role where they need to be confident in the decisions they make stops them from feeling like imposters, or lessens these feelings. This essentially comes down to whether IP is a state or a trait, but understanding how this state or trait affects people’s life choices is interesting. Particularly as it’s impact on professionals means that it will affect the lives of others.

The ways that professionals make decisions is important, particularly when it has real impacts upon other people’s lives. I’m interested in how those decisions are made, what thought processes go into this, and how our professional and personal identities impact our decisions. I’m looking into doing some work around these issues within social work in the future. One of the hopes is that from this, strategies for those who experience IP can be developed to help them cope, or feel less like a fraud.

IP seems to be more common amongst women, or those who are atypical in their field, suggesting that not being able to see others like you makes individuals feel like they don’t belong. The part of me that really likes punk wants to shout that this is O.K., being atypical means that you bring a different perspective, and will be creating when doing work, all with a Bad Religion’s ‘You Don’t Belong’ as a theme song. And this might be true, but it doesn’t necessarily help those who are struggling with feeling like an imposter. So I’m hoping that some work around this can lead to strategies to allow people to feel a bit more at home in the things that they do.

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Hardcore Self-Help

When I was doing my undergraduate degree, my friends and I would often talk about who our favourite psychologists were. One person always loved the hilarity and strangeness of Freud, another would always say she was “Jung at heart”. A good pun often beats a coherent argument in my book. I was a long time fan of Aaron Beck. Those cognitive triads. It was a theory that made complete sense to me, seemed practical, and just seemed to speak to my way of thinking. Also I really like triangles, they’re the best of the shapes. 

Whilst I didn’t study psychology beyond undergrad, I still love cognitive theory. It’s so interesting to me and is something I make sure to try and keep up with (although it often goes beyond my understanding). Beck is someone I talk about a lot, and I have made sure my students know of his work. I teach social work, so this is still relevant, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t mention Beck even if I was teaching something wildly different. To me, Beck is one of the greats (the musician of the same name is also pretty ace, which may have been a contributing factor in my fandom). But I may have a new favourite psychologist. It’s kind of a big deal.

Recently I read “Hardcore Self-Help: Fuck Anxiety” by Robert Duff. It is amazing. I’ve looked into some self-help stuff before, and it often seems to me that it is too soft, like the author feels their readers are all so fragile they need to be cosseted with words. Hardcore Self-Help doesn’t do this. It’s sweary, funny, and honest. The tone is like talking to one of my friends, who know that I have a sarcastic and dark sense of humour, and the best way to make me feel better is to play on that. This isn’t to say that Duff’s book is harsh or sarcastic, but it’s realistic and fun, and doesn’t pussy-foot around the more unpleasant aspects of anxiety and the associated issues. It gives some practical steps to help stop or relieve anxiety (some of which are linked to my beloved cognitive triads), and tells you that it isn’t going to happen immediately, but will take work. That was nice to hear, and Duff makes the reader feel pretty excited about getting to do the work. It acknowledges that anxiety sucks, and it’s difficult to get past, but that those things are ok, and you’ll be able to deal with it anyway with some work. At one point he makes the analogy between developing coping skills and levelling up video game characters. That made me laugh lots, and imagine what my anxiety fighting character would be like (Jess the vampire slayer, who can also fly). 

Robert Duff has also recently started a podcast where he answers questions about mental health and talks about his work as a neuropsychologist. It’s great. I’m going to read his other book “Fuck Depression”, and hope that he never says anything bad about Aaron Beck. That would be a deal breaker.

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