About MePlusMe, and what members of the team have to say about it
iConcipio’s project is called MePlusMe. It was shortlisted from over 2400 other projects worldwide for the Falling Walls Young Innovator of the Year 2016 competition in Berlin. But, what is MePlusMe and why does this recognition matter? Let’s take a quick look at its story to date and hear from the people behind the project.
In 2011, two market research projects were conducted. The first targeted counselors and psychologists working in the student support services (SSS) of higher education institutions (HEIs), using a semi-structured interview to collect information about the operation of existing services, and their common practices, needs, and challenges. The second targeted students via an online survey to shed light on the most common difficulties students face at university, their opinions of online support systems, and what features they believe make such systems useful. The outcome of these projects highlighted existing needs and inspired the conception and the design of an online system as a solution.
Later that year, iConcipio won the Lion’s Den King’s College London Business Plan Competition. The award was for the design of a web-based application, called MePlusMe, which addresses the wellbeing and educational needs of higher education students in an entirely novel way to improve their student experience. A few months later, the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) awarded iConcipio a Proof of Concept Grant (Smart Award) for the development of a web-based demonstration of the system, which was assessed by 873 students from five UK HEIs. This step ensured that the development of MePlusMe is acceptable and reflects end-users’ needs. During this study, uncertainties identified in the development of the system were examined, and feedback about the system’ s acceptability and feasibility was obtained.
Encouragingly, preliminary data showed that students like and need such a system and the work was published in Digital Health in 2016. In addition, following testing an in-depth discussion with executives from HEIs took place to gather their thoughts and opinions. This feedback, alongside findings from the proof of concept study, helped to refine the initial design. For example, wording and graphics were altered to better appeal to a broader range of ages (older students as well as younger). A poster summarising this work was presented in 2015 at the 2nd Behaviour Change Conference: Digital Health and Wellbeing which was held by the UCL Centre for Behaviour Change in association with the new UCL Institute of Digital Health. A protocol for a feasibility study was published in 2015 in the Pilot and Feasibility Studies explaining in detail the plans (including past and future steps) behind the development of the system. The system is currently being developed, and a feasibility study is due to be set up and run with one exclusive HEI.
Dr Patapia Tzotzoli conceived MePlusMe and founded iConcipio. She has been the key architect behind these developments. This project reached its current stage with limited financial resources, but unlimited enthusiasm and significant contributions from its team of researchers, clinical psychologists, and IT developers to name but a few. Here is what a few of them have to say about MePlusMe and their involvement to date.
Mark Haddad, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health & Senior Tutor for Research and Member of the Advisory Board – Research Team of iConcipio
What part did you play in the development of MePlusMe to date?
I have enjoyed being involved in the development of this innovative approach to healthcare delivery. I have worked as a mental health clinician and research academic for many years. For more than 15 years, I worked as a specialist mental health practitioner in primary care, and have drawn on my extensive clinical experience of assessing and managing common mental health problems to assist the project team in identifying accessible, feasible, and effective approaches for these problems. My experience as a clinical researcher has helped me contribute to the team’s work on the selection of appropriate screening and rating tools, and to the ongoing evaluations of the effectiveness of the programme.
What problem does it try to solve?
MePlusMe addresses mental and emotional wellbeing issues and problems among students. It seeks to provide an efficient and accessible platform for the delivery of evidence-based strategies for psychological problem management. It is targeted at a population group who are subject to an increasing array of stressors, and for whom early problem identification and prompt delivery of support is of great importance. As such, MePlusMe has the potential to make a real positive impact on the experiences of the many students who may be affected by mood and anxiety problems.
Elizabeth Barley, Professor in Health and Wellbeing, College of Nursing, Midwifery and Healthcare, University of West London and Member of the Advisory Board – Research Team of iConcipio
What was your contribution to MePlusMe so far?
I have given my opinion on the design and name of the intervention and commented on its content. I have also helped design a feasibility study and have gained ethical approval for the study. I have also contributed to papers about MePlusMe.
Is there a need for such a system?
The incidence of mental health problems and level of mental distress in students in higher education is increasing. As well as causing problems for the student personally, it is a problem for universities as it is linked to student attrition and reduced satisfaction. This has financial implications for the institution and, if they drop out, for the student who will be left with debt but no degree. Universities provide a range of support services for students, but funding is limited and it is increasingly difficult to meet demand. Furthermore, some students do not access help due to feelings of stigma. Online support systems are a non-stigmatising and cost-effective way of reaching large numbers of students. Online psychosocial support has been shown to be clinically effective and acceptable to users. MePlusMe uses evidence-based techniques and is tailored to student needs. In particular, it is useful in helping students to address both psychological distress and study skills difficulties with can be a causal or contributing factors to mental health problems.
Dr Nicole de Zoysa, Clinical Psychologist, King’s College Hospital, and Member of the Advisory Board – Clinical Team of iConcipio
What was your role in the development of MePlusMe to date?
I was involved in consultation around the development of the questionnaire, therapeutic techniques, and presentation of the videos. I was providing feedback on aspects of clinical utility, validity and accessibility for a student population.
How is MePlusMe different from other relevant systems?
MePlusMe is based on a continuum model of mental health which normalises certain struggles for students and works to empower them rather than ‘fix’ them. A lot of thought has gone into how to identify and cluster patterns of difficulty drawing on clinically relevant measures. The use of videos, interactive exercises and monitoring options online make the programme engaging and accessible for younger people.
Dr Marietta Papadatou-Pastou, Lecturer in Neuropsychology, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, and Research Associate for iConcipio
What has been your involvement in MePlusMe so far?
I have been a Research Associate of iConcipio since January 2013. During these years, I have taken an active role in the academic publications of our team regarding MePlusMe. I have co-authored two published academic papers describing (i) the proof-of-concept study that established the need of an online support system for HE students and (ii) the protocol of the feasibility study that is about to commence. Moreover, I have supervised the development of and co-authored three more academic papers that are currently under review in academic journals or in preparation. I have also presented the work of iConcipio on MePlusMe at scientific conferences. My role in disseminating knowledge about the system to the scientific community has been very rewarding personally, but also central to MePlusMe’s profile as an evidence-based support system with a robust scientific approach with regards to both to its content and development.
Why does research have such a prominent role in the development of MePlusMe?
MePlusMe approaches online psychological and academic support with a scientific rigor of the highest standards. MePlusMe prides itself for its commitment to evidence-based practices. We want to offer a real solution to students who struggle. We want to offer a solution that is indeed effective. We trust that the only way to establish that what we offer is effective is to put it to the test. Via systemic research we will be able to provide the hard evidence needed to show that our system works. Moreover, via strict research procedures we can further develop and improve our system to optimally suit the needs of its users – the students who struggle. We developed MePlusMe based on the Medical Research Council (MRC) guidelines for developing and evaluating complex interventions.
Our next milestone is a study to test the feasibility, acceptability, and potential benefits of MePlusMe. The study will commence in Spring 2017 and it will specifically evaluate potential effects on students’ mood (symptoms of anxiety and depression), mental wellbeing, study skills, and everyday functioning, and their engagement and satisfaction with the system. This is a crucial step, as it will be followed by a soft launch of the system and the outcomes of the feasibility study will inform a randomised controlled trial (RCT), leading to a wide-scale incorporation of the system within higher education institutions student support services.
Rhianna Goozée, Research Associate and Editor for iConcipio
What has been your contribution to MePlusMe to date?
I have helped to develop copy for the website, using my editing experience to create text and dialogue that is clear and accurate, and have provided ad hoc editorial advice for a range of different texts associated with the project. I have also contributed to the research supporting MePlusMe, collaborating with others on the team to write papers about the work we have done to show MePlusMe meets a currently unmet need in students.
Why did you get involved with this project?
When I first got involved in the project, I was a student myself and aware of the pressures that this entails. Having friends and colleagues who had struggled with their mental health during their studies, and knowing that they had not always felt there was enough support available, the idea of an online support system seemed intriguing and particularly timely.
Nadia Crandall, Chair Emeritus, Harvard Business Angels of London, and Business Mentor for iConcipio
What is your view on MePlusMe?
MePlusMe is a profoundly important, possibly life-changing and life-saving service, which reaches out to adolescents and young adults. Young people face tremendous social, financial and academic pressures as they move out of the family home and begin their journey towards independent adulthood. Universities often struggle to provide the support that these challenges require, and that are so fundamental to student success and retention ratios. MePlusMe supplements these support services with an effective, on-demand, secure and personalised provision.
What has been your involvement in the project to date?
I have had the good fortune to work with Patapia as a mentor and advisor for the past four years while she conceived and developed her business idea and built a minimum viable product. Patapia is a natural entrepreneur: creative, energetic, lateral-thinking, and hugely persuasive. She has boot-strapped MePlusMe with minimal funds and I’m looking forward with enthusiasm to the pilot projects that will validate her hard work.
* You can read about the problem that MePlusMe aims to solve here.
* To find out what’s the rationale behind MePlusMe just click here.
* Universities interested in finding out more about MePlusMe can email Dr Patapia Tzotzoli to schedule a presentation of the system.