Online peer support for preventing comorbid depression in people with long-term conditions

We think that better access to online peer support could help people with multiple long-term conditions (LTC) live happier, healthier lives. The aim of this work is to co-produce an online psychoeducation and peer support platform for people living with LTC experiencing subthreshold depression, with a view to intervening early and preventing development of comorbid major depression in this at-risk population. This is part of a research project at King’s College London (KCL) and an ‘Integrating Mental & Physical healthcare: Research, Training & Services’ (IMPARTS) initiative. This work has been funded by King’s Health Partners and Impact on Urban Health, through their Multiple Long-Term Conditions Challenge Fund.

Our aim is to create a community that brings both physical and mental health together to support the whole person, mind and body. We are proud that our team includes research advisory group members (patient and public involvement group with lived experience of LTCs), a patient and public participatory design panel, an external design agency: TOAD, KCL researchers and academics, KCL clinicians, and a co-applicant with lived experience. We have gathered reflections from some of the team members on their experiences of the process so far here.

Throughout the project so far, we have followed a process called ‘Intervention Mapping’, using a co-production approach. Intervention Mapping is a planning framework for intervention development and implementation that is grounded in community-based participatory research methods. Firstly, we conducted focus groups to understand what people with LTC think about online peer support. Next, over a series of workshops, a Participatory Design Panel comprised of key stakeholders utilised these findings and existing evidence to formulate a theory of change for the intervention’s impacts and mechanisms. The panel then translated the theory of change into practical intervention components, including content, design features and a peer moderation strategy. Finally we undertook usability testing using Think Aloud techniques in which participants were encouraged to articulate their thoughts as they engaged with the platform prototype. In this blog piece, Elly Aylwin-Foster (Co-Applicant with lived experience) and Hannah Rowlands, (Research Assistant) reflect on the experience of being involved in online co-production during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The final phase of this project will be to co-design a feasibility study to evaluate the acceptability of the platform and the feasibility of a full-scale randomised controlled trial. We are pleased to announce that we have recently secured funding to take our work to the next stage. This will allow us to realise the vision of the platform and continue to develop and enhance the project for another two years. We plan to gather experiences of using the platform from users with LTC, who are experiencing subthreshold depression. Our co-produced approach is hugely important to us and integral to this work. Please keep an eye out for project updates as we progress to the next exciting stages. For further information about the project or about potential opportunities to get involved please do not hesitate to contact Dr Grace Lavelle at grace [dot] lavelle [at] kcl [dot] ac [dot] uk