A virtual gaming world to help young people get through tough times

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A virtual gaming world to help young people get through tough times

Project Summary
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Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Reach Out! Central (ROC) is an online game that promotes positive youth mental health by adapting content from effective psychological intervention.

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Plot your innovation within the mosaic of solutions
Which of these barriers is the primary focus of your work?

Dual Stigma

Which of the principles is the primary focus of your work?

Emotional Health

If you believe some other barrier or principle should be included in the mosaic, please describe it and how it would affect the positioning of your initiative in the mosaic:

This field has not been completed

What is your signature innovation in one sentence?

Reach Out! Central (ROC) is an online game that promotes positive youth mental health by adapting content from effective psychological intervention.

Describe your innovation. What makes your idea unique and different than others doing work in the field?

ROC, as far as we are aware, is a world first. It combines evidence-based mental health content with online gaming technology to create an interactive environment that enables young people to identify and work through issues such as depression, anger and anxiety, increasing their ability to cope with difficulties. It is delivered via an established, trusted and recognised online youth mental health information service, Reach Out! (www.reachout.com.au), and can also be used by clinicians as a therapeutic tool. Users identify and track mental health outcomes over time and follow story pathways most relevant to them. The program itself is unique and includes unique features such as: a content management system which enables full control over scenario scripts within existing settings; an internal Mp3 player; integration with mobile phones; and a mood tracker, which gives players the ability to save, track and assess the game's impact on their mental health over time.

What barriers exist that are creating the problem your innovation is hoping to address/change?

Of the 1 in 5 young people with a mental health problem, only 29% seek clinical help. Young men in particular don’t access traditional mental health services such as face-to-face and phone-based counselling. Instead they turn to the internet for advice and support. Research demonstrates that online interventions that provide evidence-based information are effective in reducing mental health difficulties. This program aims to reduce mental health difficulties in youth.

Delivery Model: How do you implement your innovation and apply it to the challenge/problem you are addressing.

ROC takes advantage of the internet to bring young people information in a form that is relevant, appealing and highly accessible. It can be accessed at any time and is free to all users. Inspire Foundation first developed and evaluated a prototype of the intervention in 2005. The evaluation found ROC was effective but that it needed to be more complex and engaging to have a long-term impact. As a result, we worked closely with gaming industry experts, our web development partners, mental health experts and young people to develop the new version. This addresses the barriers outlined above by: 1) Being online – young people’s preferred help-seeking environment. It also uses flash technology to make it as accessible as possible, even to those on slower broadband connections. 2) Being targeted at, and promoted to, young men through an associated advertising campaign. 3) Adapting a psychological intervention shown to be effective in reducing mental health difficulties in schools.

How do you plan to scale your innovation?

There are a number of ways in which we will scale ROC: 1) ROC is integrated into the broader Reach Out! service. As a result, it leverages off Reach Out!'s large audience (250,000 users per month) and strong brand. Membership has also been integrated across ROC and Reach Out!, which means 25,000 people have automatic access to ROC. 2) Associated with Reach Out! are the Reach Out! Teachers Network – whereby curricula is developed to integrate Reach Out! content into schools – and Reachoutpro – a program to help mental health clinicians utilize Reach Out! in clinical care. Over the coming months specialised content will be developed to enable professionals to use ROC, extending its benefit to more young people. 3) An integrated launch campaign to promote the game to young people 4) Further funding has been secured to develop more plots on issues such as help-seeking and drug use.5) Reach Out! and ROC will be launched in USA in 2008 with specialized content developed for American youth.

Provide one sentence describing your impact.

The impact will be reduced mental health difficulties among young people including depressive symptoms.

What impact has your innovation had to date? Exactly who are the beneficiaries of your innovation?

The beneficiaries are young people aged 16-25. ROC is particularly targeted at young men, who despite high levels of mental health difficulties, rarely seek help from community-based mental health services. Prior to developing the full version of ROC, we developed and evaluated a prototype of the program in order to assess whether content from a school-based education program shown to reduce depressive symptoms, could be combined with computer gaming technology. The evaluation found that 92% of males and 97% of females found the prototype “helpful” or “very helpful” in developing skills. The full version of ROC launched on 17 September 2007. An independent evaluation to assess the mental health impact of the full version has been commissioned. This will be completed in early 2008. However, the early impact is that ROC has significantly increased the number of new members joining Reach Out! and significantly increased the number of young men engaged with the service.

How many people have you served directly?

The prototype was accessed by 33,346 users in the 24 months that it was available online. In its first week, the new ROC has been accessed by over 10,000 users. To access the program online, users need to become members of Reach Out!. Prior to the launch of the new ROC, Reach Out! would sign up 152 new members in an average week, of which 20% were males. One success measure of ROC was an increase in the number of young people joining Reach Out!. In the week following ROC's launch, 2188 people became members of Reach Out! (a 14 fold increase on the weekly average) of which 54% were males. More men became members in that same week than in the previous 8 months combined. The main Reach Out! site, which ROC has been integrated with, has been accessed over 5 million times since its launch in 1997. Reach Out! is regularly accessed by over 250,000 users per month and is the now the leading mental health website for young people in Australia.

How many people have you served indirectly?

In the months following launch we will work closely with education experts to develop lesson plans that will enable ROC to be integrated into high school curricula across the country. Over 1000 teachers are members of the Reach Out! Teachers Network. As a result, hundreds of young people will be indirect beneficiaries of the program through its use in schools. In early 2008 we will launch a program called Reachoutpro to enable our resources, such as ROC, to be used as a tool in clinical care. As a result, we expect that a significant number of community-based clinicians (e.g. psychologists, social workers and doctors) will indirectly benefit from ROC through its use as a tool in clinical settings. In 2008, Reach Out! will be launched in the USA. As a result, young people in the USA will indirectly benefit from the development of ROC. We expect to launch a service in Ireland in 2009, with more countries to follow.

Please list any other measures reflective of the impact of your innovation

ROC is a world first and has only recently been launched, so it is challenging to demonstrate its impact beyond what is described. Should it prove successful we believe that it will provide precedent for others to invest in serious games to improve mental health – thereby extending the impact. The strongest impact so far has been the evidence that ROC is engaging its key target audience of young men, a notoriously hard group to engage.

What are the main barriers to creating your impact?

The main barrier has been the perception that games are just for entertainment. As a result, it was quite challenging to engage funders about the initiative. Being a world first, there was also no precedent to work from in terms of design, gameplay and features. Finding ways to meaningfully incorporate mental health content without making it boring was a potential barrier. Early indications are that this barrier has been overcome.

How is your initiative financed?

Inspire Foundation is a registered charity in Australia with all income being generated from charitable gifts and grants. ROC was financed through gifts from Australian foundations and government partners. These include: Sony Foundation Australia; beyondblue: the national depression initiative; Teen Spirit Foundation; New South Wales Department of Health; and the Golden Stave Foundation.

Provide information on your finances and organization: annual budget, annual revenue, number of staff:

The Inspire Foundation is an Australian charitable organisation. In the 2006/07 financial year it had an annual budget of $3.6 million. The revenue for last financial year was also $3.6 million*. The Foundation has 31 paid staff and over 150 volunteers. Annual reports and audited financial statements can be accessed from the Inspire website at www.inspire.org.au

* These figures are currently being audited. Final audited figures will be released in November 2007.

What is the potential demand for your innovation?

Being online and highly accessible, the potential demand for ROC is massive. In its first week alone, over 10,000 players accessed ROC and we expect this number to grow as it is integrated with other areas of the Reach Out! service and promoted more widely. The other potential demand will be from other countries, who could adapt the program to ensure that its content is culturally appropriate for their young people.

What are the main barriers to financial sustainability?

As a charitable organisation our main barrier is securing ongoing charitable funding as we continue to grow our programs and community impact. We are also seeking to launch a sister charity in the USA in 2008. While, we have ensured that this expansion has no detrimental effects on our financial sustainability in Australia, it will be a continuing challenge to secure financial sustainability at an international level.

The Story
What is the origin of this innovation? Tell us your story.

The origin of the program is in a personal experience of our Founder, Jack Heath who lost a cousin to suicide in 1992. With support from Microsoft Australia and some leading Australian business people, he committed to developing an initiative to use the internet to reduce youth suicide. Reach Out!, at the time a world first, was launched in 1997 to achieve this aim. The service has continued to meet growing demand for online mental health information and support for young people. Evaluations indicated however that up to 80% Reach Out!'s users were young women. Inspire Foundation retains a commitment to innovation and wanted to find new ways to engage our audience and attract more young men to the service. We recognised the growing popularity of online computer gaming and sought to develop a gaming environment that would improve young people’s mental health skills. In 2005 we launched a prototype of ROC and evaluated its impact. On the basis of this evaluation we developed the full version of ROC which was launched on 17 September 2007.

Please provide a personal bio. Note this may be used in Changemakers marketing material

I am Director of Programs at Inspire Foundation. I have been with the Foundation since it was first formed over 10 years ago. I was part of the original team that developed the Reach Out! service and have been leading the development of Reach Out! since 2000. Along with work in Australia, I have been part of the team seeking to establish the Reach Out! service in the USA and beyond. I have a background in child psychology and human rights, and hold a BA (Hons.) in psychology.

How did you hear about this contest and what is your main incentive to participate? (this is confidential)

I am a member of the changemakers website and heard about the competition through newsletters and regularly visiting the site. The main incentive to apply is that we are keen to share our innovation with others interested in the area and make connections with people - particularly in the US where we are seeking to establish a sister service to Reach Out!.

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