Tech help for people experiencing traumatic stress

Image shows the top of a laptop with the words "Mental Health" written on it and viewed over the shoulder of the user who is out of focus.Following a successful pilot project, AbilityNet will provide ongoing support to people with PTSD through a partnership with the NHS, Jangala, Lenovo and ASDA.

Since January, we've worked alongside psychologists at the Traumatic Stress Clinic, a specialist mental health service within the Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, so that it could provide support during Covid-19.

"Isolation can make PTSD symptoms worse," said Dr Julia Gillard, a clinical psychologist at Camden and Islington NHS FT. "With face-to-face appointments cancelled, we urgently needed to find a solution to ensure we could reach all of our patients."

Dr Gillard and fellow clinical psychologist Jocelyn Blumberg began approaching organisations that could help.

A holistic technology solution

A picture of Jangala's Get Box deviceThe result was a coming together of healthcare, charity and business to provide connectivity, technology, and community-based support.

Former Tech4Good Award winner Jangala provided the clinic with Get Boxes so that those without an internet connection could keep in touch with therapists.

Lenovo supports Jangala in a technical, financial and advisory manner, providing equipment and expertise to help with the development and rollout of its products.

The clinic also secured several tablets received as a donation from Asda, secured by healthcare charity Helpforce as part of its #TabletsWithLove campaign.

"The clients who received the tablets and Get Boxes were so grateful that they were so easy to use," says Abbie Maulkerson, an assistant psychologist at Camden and Islington NHS FT. "Setting up Wi-Fi can be complicated. With Get Box, they were immediately up and running, able to join online therapy sessions in next to no time."

Building confidence through digital support

AbilityNet stepped up to provide FREE support to recipients of the Get Boxes and tablets. In addition, our volunteers offered support as part of the initial pilot.

"Access to digital has enabled people to continue accessing essential services during lockdowns," says Sarah Brain, free services manager at AbilityNet. "Our volunteer network understands how making simple adjustments can help people to do key tasks. Volunteers work alongside clients, at their pace, so that they learn and grow in confidence."

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"Even before the virus outbreak, people would say they'd email me, and I had to explain that I didn't have the means for this," explains Jason, a client at the clinic.

Jason continued: "I already felt outside of the bubble by not being connected. Then last year, it became even worse. The world went online, and I continually had to explain that I couldn’t use Zoom or Teams.”

Support from AbilityNet volunteers

AbilityNet ran a pilot programme to support ten clients, including Jason.

Volunteers took part in a training session for volunteers working with clients with mental health difficulties, run by Dr Gillard and Blumberg. Following this, AbilityNet volunteers and Jangala team members were on hand to provide personalised support.

“You can’t just hand someone a tablet and hope they’ll be able to figure it out,” adds Sarah Brain. “One aspect is setting up the tech so users can get started. But it’s just as important to empower users to apply what they’re being taught and maintain the knowledge.”

Staying connected during the lockdown

For clients at the clinic, a digital connection transformed their lockdown experience.

“It’s been absolutely everything, and I don’t know what I would have done without it,” says Jason. “I dropped into remote sessions and attended video appointments. I could order food deliveries online, so I didn’t need to keep going to the supermarket. And I could speak to my son over Zoom, seeing him on-screen when I couldn’t see him in person. It really has made such a difference.”

Dr Gillard feels digital support should become a fundamental element of healthcare with the world permanently changed post-pandemic.

“Access to healthcare is a basic human right, and if everything including healthcare is going remote, access to the internet should be ensured,” she explains. “Not only that, but bringing therapy into the home can be a huge advantage for those suffering from mental health disorders. They are no longer required to leave their comfort space; support can come to them.

Continuing support for the future

Following the pilot's success, the scheme will now roll out across the trust, with tablets being given to people with a diverse range of needs.

The Trust has hired a Digital Inclusion Officer who will help with the distribution of 180+ tablets. In addition, AbilityNet will continue to offer specialised support to recipients.

How AbilityNet can help