A Computer Games graduate has helped a Staffordshire tech start-up to develop a new Augmented Reality app which provides round-the-clock mental health support to young people.
Tamworth based Enlighten have created the Mental Health Mentor in collaboration with Staffordshire University and Staffordshire County Council through the Staffordshire Digital Innovation Partnership (SDIPs) programme, which provides six-months of fully funded support for local businesses to research and develop new digital products, processes and services.
Aimed at 14 to 19-year-olds, the app has been designed to break down barriers and open up conversations about mental health in schools and is currently being rolled out across the county. Interactive features include animated avatars which learners can choose to represent themselves and an initial quiz to help signpost young people to relevant support.
Suzanne Edwards, Founder and Director of Tamworth-based Enlighten, said: “We had this idea before the pandemic but by the time the project started it seemed even more fitting, with the school closures and the uncertainty that young people have been facing. Stress levels are much higher than they would be normally, so I think it’s going to have a massive impact.
“We wanted to use Augmented Reality to provide an instant gateway to support and decided to use an intern to provide specialist knowledge that we hadn’t got in-house and so the SDIPs programme seemed like a perfect opportunity.”
Computer Games Design graduate Leighton Wenlock was hired on a six-month paid internship to help with the project and hand-drew concepts for a range of inclusive avatars before creating the animated 3D models.
The 22-year-old from Stoke-on-Trent said: “The project was actually quite close to me. After going through school and not having much mental health support myself, I thought it would be great to provide help for people in school right now that I didn’t have.
“This internship has been a very valuable experience. In my industry, even junior roles ask for a year’s worth of work experience, but it is difficult to get that in the first place. Not only can I put this work in my portfolio, but I now have experience of working in an office environment, advising colleagues and working to a brief.”
Suzanne, who is also a Staffordshire University graduate, added: “As a small team we have benefitted hugely from what Leighton could bring to the table in terms of his skills, his knowledge and just having another viewpoint.
“I think the app will prove to be really invaluable in school and college wellbeing departments which are often under-resourced and I hope it will also give teachers more confidence to talk with pupils about mental health issues.”
The Mental Health Mentor is currently being piloted at Cannock High School and is being offered to schools and colleges across Staffordshire. National mental health charity CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably) is backing the project and Enlighten have ambitions to roll out the app nationally. They also hope to offer bespoke versions of the app for clients in future.
Marek Hornak, Director of Employer Partnerships at Staffordshire University, said: “This project demonstrates how working together can be mutually beneficial for both businesses and the University, resulting in an innovative new product and vital industry experience for a recent graduate.”
Mark Sutton, Staffordshire County Council’s cabinet member for children and young people, said: “It’s great to see such positive results coming out of the Staffordshire Digital Innovation Partnerships programme. The solution created could benefit hundreds of young people across Staffordshire and potentially nationally in such an important area as improving mental health.
“Young people deal with all kinds of pressures, but the pandemic has impacted them significantly so this digital development is particularly timely. In addition, it is giving a skilled graduate a great start in their career who in turn is bringing value to a Staffordshire start-up business, run by fellow university graduates.
“The programme is really making a difference to young people in the county and also building digital skills and entrepreneurship in our county.”
The Staffordshire Digital Innovation Partnerships (SDIPs) is part funded by the European Regional Development Fund 2014 -2020.
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