Prototyping Novel, Digitally Mediated Peer Support Approaches in Mental Health, and Wellbeing (10-week Internship)

Supervisor: Dr Stephen Lindsay

School: Computing Science



The goal of this project is to build trustworthy digital prototypes of novel, peer-support approaches for people living with mental health challenges to be shared with local peer support groups for feedback as part of a co-design process that will form the basis of larger funding bids by SL and XD.  


We need to understand the mechanisms, threats, and opportunities digitising peer support in mental health create [5,6]. Digital peer-support networks are widespread [3] as they allow support to be delivered in remote locations at any time of day without requiring participants be available at set times. However, digitisation removes face-to-face interaction making support feel inauthentic and creating barriers to communication [2]; leaves some participants feeling excluded [4]; or can result in poor moods spreading within the community itself in extreme cases [4].  


These challenges can be addressed with better designed digital tools that integrate real-world and online activities, buy-in to the platform’s mission, and involvement of healthcare professionals but we do not have strong, generalisable design guidance on how to realise this [5,6]. In addition, a wealth of information (activity data, wearable biometrics), new ways to interact and new ways to share experiences with peers (photographs, video-chat) are not explored in current platforms. 




We have identified two excellent students and one of them will run a series of co-design activities with local groups such as the Scottish Recovery Network1 through the already funded “Rethinking Digitally Mediated Peer Support” project. This proposal will fund a second internship to build novel protypes in response to those sessions under XD and SL’s guidance. We aim to building trustworthy digital peer support tools that preserve anonymity while promoting strong links between participants and a strong sense of community [1]. The project will leverage an international collaboration with the Action Lab Network2 to make use of their OneVoice tool which supports this type of design and development. 





Onboarding, training, discussion of the technologies the student will use.    


Familiarisation with the OneVoice technology. 


Supporting co-design sessions and contributing to initial design concepts. 


Development of digital prototype.  


Presenting prototype, refinement, and contributing to paper writing. 


Key Outcomes 

  • A funding application targeting the revised EPSRC Digital health Technologies strand3 to create a fully-fledged peer support system. 
  • A paper documenting the design process and prototype targeted at a top HCI venue like ACM CHI20234 or CSCW20235. 



  1. Scottish Recovery Network: 
  1. Action Lab Network: 
  1. EPSRC Digital Healthcare Technologies strand (Old version linked– revised theme releasing in beginning of May): 
  1. ACM CHI: 
  1. ACM CSCW: 


  1. Project alignment with EPSRC Strategic Themes 


Our project’s use of co-design, it’s focus on a digitally excluded group, and it’s commitment to building a novel digital platform mean that it aligns with two themes, Healthcare Technologies and the Digital Economy: 


Healthcare Technologies  


The proposed prototype will address the Transforming Health and Care beyond the Hospital grand challenge in the Healthcare Technologies theme. Digital health technologies are increasingly being used to facilitate support between peers coping with mental health challenges, but we have limited understanding of what technologies are used, how they provide support or how we should design them to better assist peer support practices. Devices and Technologies Fostering better Mental health are specifically called for in the theme, particularly to enable timely interventions beyond hospital settings and help people manage their own physical and mental health. The focus on mental health also aligns with the themes goal of addressing focusing on the highest priority healthcare challenges and the research capabilities that will address them. Furthermore, by aligning with the Action Lab network which includes academics from disparate backgrounds in healthcare, social sciences, design, engineering, and computing among others, we will also open potential new multidisciplinary research collaborations. Finally, our approach aligns with the themes call for human-centred design for enhanced usability and validation as our design approach puts the patient at the forefront of the innovative technologies that it develops.  


Digital Economy (DE) 

The work and method are strongly aligned with the digital economy theme because they are grounded in the focus area of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) and working in its crossover with healthcare technologies. The project uses a participatory design approach to addresses several elements of the Digital Economy priority areas as we examine how to make access to online peer support for people living with mental health challenges – a step towards equitable digital society (priority area 5). The work taps into healthcare concepts of load shifting to produce a sustainable digital intervention (priority area 4). The online platform that allows this will facilitate content creation and consumption (priority area 2). Due to the healthcare focus, trust (priority area 1) will be particularly vital in this context as we look to understand how to moderate content and interactions on the platform while respecting individual’s privacy.