Mental Health Strategy
With the launch of its Mental Health Strategy for Scotland 2012-2015, the Scottish Government committed to developing a Scotland-wide approach to improve mental health through new technology. Project Ginsberg is one of a number of initiatives born of this commitment.
Ginsberg is a joint project between the Scottish Government, NHS 24 and New Media Scotland.
It’s an online tool designed to help users monitor their lives and make connections that will allow them to see which elements impact on their mental wellbeing. It can be accessed via desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone.
Project Ginsberg takes its name from the poet Allen Ginsberg, whose masterpiece ‘Howl’ captured the deleterious effects of mental health problems; “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness”.
Project Ginsberg was envisioned by Geoff Huggins, Acting Director for Health and Social Care Integration at the Scottish Government and project sponsor of Ginsberg. He was dissatisfied by existing approaches to conditions ranging from eating disorders to depression and was concerned that the needs of patients were not being fully met.
Geoff recognised that public health interventions often take place in the places where people live their lives. Increasingly this is online; many people spend all day using the internet at home and at work and interacting with devices such as smartphones.
Aims and Objectives
Over time the idea of Ginsberg as an online data store connected to devices that people use on a daily basis emerged. The Ginsberg platform would give patients and clinicians more options to identify and address the underlying causes of distress using externalised data.
The Ginsberg platform would more than an information repository however. It was envisioned as a safe place for users to understand more about their experiences and to reflect and ruminate, enabling them to make better decisions about their mental wellbeing.
Ginsberg’s aims were expressed as core values that underpin the project to this day:
- People should have control over their own data
- Ginsberg should be modern, intuitive and engaging
- Users should be able to act on the insights Ginsberg provides
- Iteration and continuous improvement is fundamental to the design
- Ginsberg is not simply the digitisation of existing services
Project Ginsberg commenced in January 2013. Much of the first year was spent defining the project scope, consulting with stakeholders and building prototype versions of features later integrated into the platform.
Development of the core platform began in late 2013. At the end of April 2014, the team released an ‘alpha’ version of the Ginsberg dashboard software for user testing. The next few months were spent adding features and implementing fixes until we hit a significant milestone – Minimum Viable Product – at the beginning of August. MVP was the first iteration of Ginsberg that contained all the features essential to the experience, though of course there was still much work to be done.
How Ginsberg works
Mood-tracking is central to the Ginsberg experience. Upon signing up to the platform, users choose three ‘wellbeing metrics’ from eighteen possible options. These wellbeing metrics are based on the clinically valid Warwick-Edinburgh and WHO-Five scales. Examples include “I’ve been dealing with problems well” and “I’ve been feeling I have energy to spare”.
Users are asked to log how they are feeling each day by responding to these statements using a five-point scale. This takes only a few seconds but is enough to provide Ginsberg with the data it needs to start building a graph of the user’s mood data.
Ginsberg also allows users to log data about their physical activity in order to determine whether there are connections between types of behaviour and mental wellbeing. Users can track sleep, step count, exercise, alcohol consumption, nutrition and frequency of social media updates and can integrate their account with online services like Fitbit and Jawbone UP to pull in information automatically.
Raw data is often meaningless without context, however. Ginsberg users can make notes on each day’s experiences. These miniature diary entries – or “events” – can be used to enter as little or as much text as the user desires and hashtags can be used to highlight recurring words or themes.
Ginsberg can show how your sleep has changed over time, whether you sleep better or worse when you have been drinking alcohol and identifies topics that you write about when you sleep more versus when you sleep less.
At the time of writing, Ginsberg is almost ready to go public. There are a few things we want to wrap up before we hit that particular milestone – the Ginsberg iOS and Android smartphone apps will be available to download soon and we are redesigning our website – but opening the platform to everyone isn’t too far away.
Ginsberg is scheduled to be launched at an event in Edinburgh at the end of October.
Before then, we are interested in further feedback on the product and in talking to public and third sector organisations about ways Ginsberg might help them achieve their goals and from any software developers interested in using Ginsberg technology to power health apps and services.
If you’d like to get in touch, please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s blog is by @jodimullen (Jodi Mullen), Head of User Acquisition at Project Ginsberg.