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Teenager smiling and using a smartphone

This project, funded by an NDPH Intermediate Fellowship, investigates the efficacy and social implications of a co-produced digital “chat-game” that empowers adolescents for mental health action in Brazil.

Promoting adolescent mental health is increasingly recognised as an essential component of public health. Existing interventions, however, largely frame adolescents as passive beneficiaries of resources, rather than active agents in promoting community wellbeing. Given the importance of peer relationships in adolescence, young people have unique roles in spreading awareness, improving help-seeking, and providing emotional support. Empowering adolescents as agents of change can improve their own mental health and have ripple effects on the wellbeing of their peer communities.

The impact of young people’s empowerment for wellbeing promotion can be significant in low- and middle-income countries, where 90% of the world’s adolescents live. Mental health awareness and empowerment initiatives are urgently needed in Brazil, where mental health difficulties affect a third of high school students. Brazil has some of the world’s most forward-looking laws governing young people’s rights, but in the current political climate, these advances are under threat, and enhancing youth agency is critical to advance population mental health and the wider children’s rights agenda in the country.

The “chat-game” is currently under development as part of a British Academy-funded project 'Engajadamente', in collaboration with the University of Brasilia, technology company Talk2U and a team of youth researchers, with input and support from local stakeholders across policy and education sectors.

The tool consists of a novel virtual experience in which a narrative unfolds as users interact with a fictional character over a texting platform such as Facebook Messenger. The bot is targeted at the school environment and builds on narratives of mental health challenges, agency and resilience collected from Brazilian adolescents during a qualitative mapping.

The project investigates whether this "chat-game" increases mental health literacy, sensitises adolescents to their role as change agents, and empowers them for mental health action in their schools, over and above the standard curriculum.

A secondary goal is to describe spontaneous engagement in mental health actions following adolescent interactions with the chat-game, such offering peer support or launching wellbeing school hubs.

We will also investigate potential barriers to these actions within the school context (e.g., fear of stigma, adultism). Finally, we will investigate the acceptability of this new tool amongst young people.

The project follows a co-production model whereby all stages of the project are conducted in close collaboration with young people and the communities it is intended to benefit. Results will be disseminated to researchers, young people, teachers, policymakers and other key stakeholders locally and internationally.

For news and updates on the project follow Engajadamente on Instagram and Gabriela Pavarini on Twitter.

Team

  • Dr Gabriela Pavarini (PI)
  • Prof. Sheila Giardini Murta (co-I, University of Brasilia)
  • Dr Josimar A. de Alcântara Mendes (collaborator, University of Brasilia)
  • Dr Felipe Rodrigues Siston (collaborator, University of Brasilia)
  • Brenda Thallys Rocha Seabra (youth citizen researcher)
  • Julyana Alves Ferreira (youth citizen researcher)
  • Rafael Ribeiro Alves de Souza (youth citizen researcher)
  • Rafaela de Oliveira da Cunha (youth citizen researcher)
  • Victor Hugo de Lima Santos (youth citizen researcher)