SPARX an e-therapy game developed to help young people combat depression has won a World Summit Award winning in its category e-Health and Environment.
SPARX was developed by a team headed by Assoc Prof Sally Merry from The University of Auckland, funded by the New Zealand Ministry of Health and developed by Metia Interactive Ltd from Auckland. SPARX takes the form of an animated 3D game where users learn real-life skills by solving challenges to rid a fantasy world from gloom and negativity. Culturally-relevant elements have been incorporated into the game world to ensure the programme has wide cultural acceptability.
SPARX is unique because of the gaming platform it uses to engage users and because over 180 young people have been involved in a trial to test its effectiveness. The evaluation of SPARX has shown that young people found it effective, engaging and helpful. One in four young people experience an episode of clinical depression by the age of 18, and three quarters of these young people never receive any help, this programme has the potential to make a positive impact on the lives of many young people in New Zealand and internationally.
About the World Summit Award and the United Nations
The World Summit Award (WSA) is a global not-for-profit activity in the framework of the United Nations to select and promote best practice in e-Content production and creativity in innovative Internet applications.
Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences - The University of Auckland
Young people around the country will trial an innovative new ‘e-therapy’that uses computer gaming to teach self-help for depression, in astudy to be launched at The University of Auckland tomorrow.
The e-therapy – called ‘SPARX’ – uses an interactive 3D fantasy game to teach young people the skills they need to cope with challenges and manage their mood. The goal is to help lift young people out of depression and prevent symptoms from returning in the future.
“This is the first programme that brings together new gaming technologies with established counselling principles and specific learning techniques in this way,” says Dr Sally Merry, lead researcher for the programme. “It is designed to appeal to young people and ensure they receive self-help messages clearly.”
SPARX is based on cognitive behavioural therapy, a proven therapeutic approach that teaches more positive ways of thinking and problem solving skills. “Using computer technology that young people are comfortable with is one way of making therapy more accessible, practical, and hopefully more fun,” says Dr Merry.
Depression is common among young people and accessing help can be difficult. One in five New Zealanders will have experienced clinical depression by their eighteenth birthday. Three quarters of young people with depression never receive treatment, and those who do have often progressed to very severe depression. “We want to intervene earlier and more effectively,” says Dr Merry.
A successful pilot trial has already demonstrated the promise and popularity of e-therapy with young people. The study to be launched tomorrow will enrol up to 600 New Zealanders aged 12 to 19 years with mild to moderate depression. Half will use the new game and half will receive standard treatment through their doctor, school counsellor or other provider. Smaller studies will also assess the appropriateness of SPARX for Maori youth, same-sex attracted young people, and those in alternative education.
Results of the research are expected in late 2010 and if the trial proves successful, SPARX will be made publicly available through the Ministry of Health’s youth depression website www.thelowdown.co.nz.
SPARX was initiated by researchers, clinicians, and learning technologists at the University’s Werry Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Department of Psychological Medicine. It was developed with input from Maori, Pacific people, and other cultural groups in New Zealand.
The programme was created with the assistance of Metia Interactive. A number of actors, musicians and artists have generously donated their time and skills to the project. The work is funded by the Ministry of Health.Contact Pauline Curtis, Communications Adviser
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