Trials for smartphone app to combat loneliness begin

Friday 25 November 2016

Michelle Lim using a smartphone

Dr Michelle Lim hopes to gather valuable feedback from the trials

In summary

  • Swinburne researchers are working with mental health service providers to trial a smartphone app to combat loneliness  
  • Trials have begun across five Headspace and two Eastern Health services locations in Victoria
  • The app encourages users to improve the quality of the relationships within their social circle and ultimately conquer loneliness

Swinburne researchers are working with leading mental health service providers to trial a smartphone app and intervention program designed to combat loneliness in young people.

+Connect (Positive Connect) is a smartphone app that has been designed as part of a six-week program to encourage people to improve the quality of the relationships within their social circle and ultimately conquer loneliness.

Trials have begun across five Headspace locations in Victoria (Bentleigh, Elsternwick, Narre Warren, Dandenong and Frankston) and two Eastern Health services (Box Hill and Maroondah).

“We expect to be able to refine the intervention program from the pilot trials,” clinical psychologist and lead researcher Dr Michelle Lim, from Swinburne’s Brain and Psychological Sciences Research Centre says.   

“Young people will give us feedback at the end of the intervention and this will allow us to refine our mode of delivery.”

Actors from +Connect app

‌The app will also be trialled with Swinburne students who report high levels of loneliness.

“The app focuses on building social confidence in people who are lonely. It delivers a series of videos which encourages young people to build their social confidence and learn new ways of interacting with others,” Dr Lim says.

Videos, activities and suggestions for real-world interaction make up the bulk of the app which can be used as a preventative or recovery tool for those who are suffering from loneliness.

The Barbara Dicker Brain Sciences Foundation awarded the project three separate grants while Swinburne’s Student Engagement team have also played a role in the development.

Screenshot from +connect app

The burden of loneliness

Dr Lim has studied and written about the effects of loneliness, finding that it can be detrimental mental and physical health. Loneliness has been found to lead to depression, anxiety and paranoia according to recent research.

“If loneliness is not addressed, a person is more likely to experience depression, social anxiety and paranoia in the next six months,” Dr Lim says. 

Loneliness is also a risk factor for many physical health difficulties including obesity, fragmented sleep, cardiovascular problems and dementia, Dr Lim says.

The app is set to launch publically in 2018 for iOS and Android after changes from the feedback of trial participants is implemented.