Design and Development of the " POD Adventures" Smartphone Game: A Blended Problem-Solving Intervention for Adolescent Mental Health in India

Front Public Health. 2019 Aug 23:7:238. doi: 10.3389/fpubh.2019.00238. eCollection 2019.


Introduction: Digital technology platforms offer unparalleled opportunities to reach vulnerable adolescents at scale and overcome many barriers that exist around conventional service provision. This paper describes the design and development of POD Adventures, a blended problem-solving game-based intervention for adolescents with or at risk of anxiety, depression and conduct difficulties in India. This intervention was developed as part of the PRemIum for ADolEscents (PRIDE) research programme, which aims to establish a suite of transdiagnostic psychological interventions organized around a stepped care system in Indian secondary schools. Methods and Materials: Intervention development followed a person-centered approach consisting of four iterative activities: (i) review of recent context-specific evidence on mental health needs and preferences for the target population of school-going Indian adolescents, including a multiple stakeholder analysis of school counseling priorities and pilot studies of a brief problem-solving intervention; (ii) new focus group discussions with N = 46 student participants and N = 8 service providers; (iii) co-design workshops with N = 22 student participants and N = 8 service providers; and (iv) user-testing with N = 50 student participants. Participants were aged 12-17 years and recruited from local schools in New Delhi and Goa, including a subgroup with self-identified mental health needs (N = 6). Results: Formative data from existing primary sources, new focus groups and co-design workshops supported a blended format for delivering a brief problem-solving intervention, with counselors supporting use of a game-based app on "offline" smartphones. User-testing with prototypes identified a need for simplification of language, use of concrete examples of concepts and practice elements to enhance engagement. There were also indications that participants most valued relatability and interactivity within real-world stories with judicious support from an in-app guide. The final prototype comprised a set of interactive and gamified vignettes and a structured set of problem-solving questions to consolidate and generalize learning while encouraging real-world application. Discussion: Findings shaped the design of POD Adventures and its delivery as an open-access blended intervention for secondary school students with a felt need for psychological support, consistent with an early intervention paradigm. A randomized controlled trial is planned to evaluate processes and impacts of POD Adventures when delivered for help-seeking students in low-resource school settings.

Keywords: LMIC; adolescents; blended; digital; gamification; mental health; problem solving; smartphone applications (apps).