Harnessing socially driven technology to empower families of young people with psychosis.

Family members caring for a young relative with first episode psychosis face high levels of chronic stress. Untreated, this stress often leads to poor mental health outcomes both for the family members and the young person experiencing psychosis. More than one third of family carers suffer depression symptoms. Yet only a small proportion of carers have access to effective family interventions, mainly because of high dissemination costs.

In partnership with the Australian Catholic University, our team has developed is a world-first online application to better support carers of young people with first episode psychosis. Called Altitudes, the platform integrates social networking, professional and peer moderation, and effective family cognitive behavioural interventions developed by our group to target stress reduction and carer’s burden. Altitudes offers family members a private online space to connect with each other and brainstorm solutions to difficult carer problems, while accessing professional and evidence-based care to support their own wellbeing.

Altitudes has been tested via a two-year randomised controlled trial involving 166 relatives of young people from the EPPIC (Early Psychosis Prevention and Intervention Centre) clinic at Orygen Youth Health. The trial concluded in 2018 and results are currently under analysis. Initial usage data suggest a strong demand for expertly moderated, carer-driven online social media interventions, with an average of 29 logins, 47 posts and 9 therapy modules completed by each Altitudes participant over the course of the 6-month intervention period. The Altitudes platform will soon be further tested via a three-year randomised controlled trial with families attending specialist first episode psychosis services across Victoria and Western Australia.

Altitudes has been supported by generous funding from the Australian Catholic University Research Program.

Altitudes enabled and allowed me to share my story without feelings of shame, guilt and judgement about me as a parent. This, I gotta say, was sooooo comforting!” – Altitudes member

Altitudes helped build on my inaugural acceptance of what I couldn't fix or change in my son. From this, came greater strength and resilience, more hair on my head, FAR less stress, more love for my son and everyone around me!” – Altitudes member