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An Ulster University team has been integral to a new Europe-wide initiative aimed at reducing the anxiety of patients suffering from Alzheimer or post-traumatic stress disorders.

‘IT4Anxiety’ is a new €6.29m project which brings together 12 partners from the North-West Europe region (NWE) to focus on creating and implementing innovative solutions aimed at improving mental health.

Ulster University’s team are led by Dr Joan Condell from the School of Computing, Engineering and intelligent Systems (SCEIS), and includes Dr Gerry Leavey (Director of the Bamford Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing) as well as both Dr Deborah Rankin and Dr Priyanka Chaurasia from SCEIS.

The IT4Anxiety project brings together mental health professionals with start-ups, universities, research centres, higher education establishments and public authorities. It is particularly relevant in the NWE region as the prevalence of the Alzheimer’s disease and posttraumatic stress disorder is higher (1.31% and 2.1%), compared to the rest of Europe (0.95% and 1.73%).

In both these mental health conditions, one of the most crucial challenges is the management of anxiety. Moreover, given the current COVID-19 pandemic situation, the need for technological tools to aid assessment of psychological impacts on the whole population has become even more important.

Dr Condell commented:

“A study published in The Lancet has highlighted that the duration of the lockdown has an impact on people’s general state of stress and more specifically, that a lockdown during more than 10 days can engender post-traumatic symptoms, avoidance behaviours and anger. There is a need for new technologies to answer to this health-related need and public health issue. Our new IT4Anxiety project partnership will contribute to solve these main issues through new solutions deployed.”

The first phase of the project will focus on identifying the health professionals’ and patients’ needs, and based on those needs, five ‘hackathons’ will be organised aimed at co-creating and integrating ten innovative solutions.

These innovative solutions will be tested and validated with patients, start-ups, mental health professionals and public authorities, and fifteen start-ups will be supported to introduce their innovative tools to market. Several activities will be implemented which seek to facilitate the introduction of innovative solutions in Northern European health establishments.