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Developing the Unified Protocol-Single Session Experience Platform for Adolescent Mental Health

SBIR Phase I

Project Info

Project Description

National Institute of Mental Health
ID: 1R43MH128075-01
TERM: 09/21 – 08/23

Logistical and systemic barriers have long impeded access to mental health services for youth with emotional distress (e.g., depression and anxiety) resulting in a troubling gap where fewer than 50% of youth with an emotional disorder actually receive any mental health services, much less evidence-based intervention strategies. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, youth are experiencing heightened emotional distress as faced with social isolation, familial financial strain, and fewer supports by peers and schools, making the need for scalable, accessible, and feasible mental health supports more urgent than ever. Single-Session Interventions (SSIs) have been shown to be an effective means for reducing youth psychopathology and to effectively lower cost, time, and stigma barriers to mental health treatment. Through this SBIR, we will apply the Unified Protocol (UP) transdiagnostic principles for emotional disorders in youths to create a suite of digital, self-paced, and evidence-based SSI modules for youth with a range of emotional disorders. Our end product will utilize cutting-edge software to offer youth a significantly enhanced experience compared to existing (research-focused) digital SSIs. No digital (self-administered) SSI product currently exists that offers the proposed unique combination of content and digital interactivity and personalization.

This 12-month SBIR Phase I project will accomplish three specific aims: (1) develop a software prototype containing two fully-functioning SSI modules: “Awareness of Physical Sensations and Emotional Experience” and “Being Flexible in Your Problem-Solving”; (2) conduct usability and acceptability testing with youth who screen as having elevated emotional disorder symptoms; and (3) conduct feasibility testing with stakeholders who commonly oversee or support youth mental health (school- and community-based mental health providers, after-school counselors, pediatric healthcare providers, and parents). The proposed SBIR project will address the need for innovative cost- and time-efficient access to evidence-based mental health services for youth experiencing emotional distress. Phase I development will be guided by iterative user-centered design and testing. We expect Phase I to provide sufficient evidence of the feasibility and promise of our proposed product to support continued development and efficacy testing in Phase II. The overarching goal of this work is to support broad scale dissemination and use of digital SSI modules to reach as many youth as possible with evidence-based mental health supports.