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Technology Enhanced Service Delivery for Young Adults with Serious Mental Illness

Vinfen is using smartphones and innovative technology to enhance our evidence-based behavioral health, supported living, rehabilitation, education, employment, clinical and peer support services for young adults with serious mental illness.

The transition to adulthood while living with mental illness has unique and specific challenges. Young adults often struggle to regulate their emotions, have challenges with substance misuse, are homeless or at-risk of homelessness, or are experiencing their first episode with a psychiatric condition. These factors can make it difficult for young people to manage their health and wellness and lead independent, productive, and valued lives as members of their community.

In 2014, Vinfen was awarded a generous grant from the Cummings Foundation to investigate the use of technology to provide services and supports to young adults with emotional and behavioral challenges.  Vinfen has collaborated with Wellframe, which has a growing and impressive track record of developing health and wellness technology, to develop and test a health and wellness smartphone app which provides personalized, daily supports and clinical resources to educate and engage young adults receiving Vinfen services.

What makes this app different from the thousands of health apps available for the smartphone? The app was designed to extend the services provided by Vinfen using language and concepts familiar to the young adults. The app is not designed to stand alone or replace the services provided by staff but is designed to leverage those services.  It also will allow caregivers and evaluators to collect data which can be used to improve the technology and ultimately produce better outcomes.

Through the grant and the generous support of Sprint, we are providing the app, a smartphone, and a data plan to 20 young adults in the Peabody/Lowell area of Massachusetts.

The app has three main elements.

  • Daily schedule: Young adults are asked to complete 5-7 daily tasks. These tasks include responding to medication reminders, reviewing health related articles and videos, responding to messages and reminders from staff and answering brief questions on their current emotional and mental status.
  • Personalized tool box: This toolbox contains the young adults’ goals, their strengths, their most effective coping strategies and problem solving techniques. These tools are readily accessible to the young adult and reinforce the coaching done by staff around self awareness, self regulation and self management.
  • Content library: The library provides articles, videos, and audio links to resources on a variety of key topics such as nutrition, safe sex, healthy habits and personal safety.

On the back end of the app, Vinfen staff are able to monitor adherence to the app, utilization of the daily schedule, initiate and receive communications and assess the most frequently accessed content. This, along with user feedback, will help Vinfen to make modifications, improvements and refine the app to best support the people we serve.

Developing the app has been a collaborative process between Wellframe and Vinfen, with Vinfen developing much of the content, pulling from both publicly available sources and existing Vinfen clinical protocols. We solicited input from clinical and program staff and most importantly from the young adults receiving Vinfen services who have given input on the content they would like to see in the app and some of whom are also featured in the educational videos in t he content library.

Once we have successfully tested the feasibility of the app, Vinfen plans to expand the availability to other young adults served by Vinfen and other providers.


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