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Future Proofing

28 September 2021 - Kate Maston

Future Proofing

What is the Future Proofing study?

This world-first study investigates adolescent wellbeing at scale, including what factors predict and prevent the development of mental health problems in teens. We do this through:

  1. Comprehensive surveys delivered annually
  2. Trialling purpose-built mental health apps

So, why was the Future Proofing Study shortlisted by the Australian Financial Review?

Being researchers, we have developed some theories about this.

  • It’s big: Future Proofing is the largest study of its kind – nearly 8000 parents/carers in 150+ schools have consented to their children’s participation - and we are still recruiting. These numbers are important - when analysed by the more than 40 academics involved, the data will be powerful and persuasive with decision-makers working out how best to predict, prevent and treat teen mental illness.
  • Right time, right focus: Teen mental health is one of the biggest health issues in society right now – 25% of young people experience depression or anxiety before the age of 18. And more than half of these young people then end up with lifelong mental health struggles.
  • Prevention is better than cure: Depression has been found to be preventable in up to 22% of at-risk young people, hence our focus on finding ways to ‘inoculate’ young people against mental illness.
  • The technology is cutting edge: We are testing innovative technologies, for example, we use a predictive data and behavioural profiling technique called ‘digital phenotyping’ to help identify young people at risk of mental illness. Students download the ‘Future Proofing’ app and complete games and activities, including mood surveys, memory challenges, typing tasks and voice recordings. In addition, if parents and students consent, the app can also collect passive data such as the number of locations visited daily, general movement patterns and voice changes, and collate this into a world-first digital phenotyping platform to reveal patterns in the data that could predict the development of anxiety and depression in young people. This is based on contemporary research indicating that people with depression frequently become socially withdrawn, less active and their voice often becomes flatter and duller. The monitoring of this sensory data can allow for the early identification of depression and hence prompt early interventions to prevent mental illness.
  • Going to the source: There isn’t sufficient understanding of this problem – and hence it’s difficult to know what to do about it. So, we are asking the young people themselves what’s going on.
  • It’s developmentally driven: Teens change during adolescence so we are surveying the same students every year for five years.
  • We aim for accessibility: 60% of teens don’t seek help for mental health issues, so we understand that it is vital that we give them apps that they can use wherever, whenever. We get that young people are digital natives, so we are working with that rather than against it.
  • Working with schools: We have approval to work with young people at schools. This provides us with access to large groups of students and allows us to work alongside school well-being teams.
  • Recognising the value of diversity: We’re working with Public, Independent, and Catholic schools in regional and urban NSW. We’re also working with schools in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, and Adelaide.
  • We are adaptable: Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, we are currently delivering the study to students online via Zoom, rather than via face-to-face – and it’s working well.

It would be nice if the Future Proofing Study does win this innovation award, but actually, what’s been most exciting about this nomination is reflecting on ‘why Future Proofing?’ and that process has made us excited all over again about the work we are doing!

You can view an information video about the study here on our Black Dog Institute website.


You can watch a 10 minute presentation here by me, Kate Maston, Senior Program Manager, Future Proofing, Black Dog Institute.

Kate Maston
Kate Maston

 Kate Maston is a Senior Program Manager at the Black Dog Institute. Kate is responsible for rolling out the Black Dog Institute’s flagship youth research trial, the ‘Future Proofing Study’, which aims to discover how to use technology to deliver preventative psychological programs to young people on a large scale. Kate completed her Masters in Clinical Psychology at UNSW and previously worked as a clinician with young people at headspace, in community health, and in private practice. She has worked with the Black Dog Institute since 2018.

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