Tech company create gamified mental health app for Ukrainian refugees

Dec Connolly Editor


blue and white logo guessing game

CHILDREN and teenagers affected by the conflict in Ukraine are to be given a helping hand thanks to a computer game designed to help them deal with the things they have experienced in a war zone.

Attensi, a European digital learning specialist, is using its technology to help child victims of war, which according to UNICEF statistics* is three million children inside Ukraine and over 2.2 million children in refugee-hosting countries, with almost two out of every three children currently displaced by fighting.

Many have seen things no child should ever see, from their homes destroyed to their schools being attacked, living in underground bunkers and families and communities rapidly fleeing for safety.

Helping Hand is a digital role-playing game, similar to the ones the technology company creates for businesses to train their teams around the world. It takes ‘players’ through a series of life-like scenarios in a computer game-style setting and offers them a range of responses to choose from. It is designed to reinforce positive decision-making and to strengthen children’s resolve to ask for help when they need it.

The gamified simulation training is specifically successful in helping teenage refugees deal with trauma.

Helping Hand has already helped 125 Syrian teenagers in Central Beqaa, Lebanon, who all said that the game made them feel better and helped them maker better sense of their world. 28% of the adolescents reported what WHO classifies as ‘normal wellbeing’ before playing the game, while 99% reported normal wellbeing 10 weeks on.

The players averaged 45/100 on the WHO wellbeing index before playing the game. After the game, the figure had risen to 72 – indicating a significant, positive impact on their mental health.

Bjarne Johnson, CCO Norway and EU at Attensi, was originally moved by the plight of the Syrian children he saw on the TV new and knew that Attensi could help. He initiated the project by reaching out to clinical psychologist Dr Solfrid Raknes, who pioneered The Psychological First Aid Kit in in Lebanon, where the concept has been running for years. Now Attensi has powered this concept with its gamified simulation tech, creating the Helping Hand app which has been developed collaboratively alongside partners including the publishing firm Gyldenal, the Norwegian Government and aid agencies.

Now after working successfully with aid agencies in Syria, Attensi is using funding from Innovation Norway to bring the technology to the millions of children affected by the ongoing Ukrainian conflict.

Bjarne said: “For these young kids and adolescents, talking about their well-being, how they are feeling, with adults or with strangers, can be quite frightening, so being able to play a computer game on their own, in a safe environment, can have a strong impact.”

Social aid workers will invite affected children to come and work through the app on portable devices like iPads, or signpost to those with devices that the app freely is available to download.

Dr Raknes said: “Over 5 million children have been affected already by the Ukraine conflict, which escalated quickly and turned their world upside down. This technology is designed to help them process what they have experienced, give them courage and rebuild their lives.

“By playing through scenarios in this game they can dare to speak, express their opinions, deal with bad memories and traumatic experiences. Adolescents can learn what it takes to contribute their ideas and take part not just in the game, but in real life.”

Attensi chief executive Trond Aas said: “Helping Hand gives young people a chance to work through problems and painful experiences safely – often the first time they have been able to come to terms with the savage reality of growing up in a war zone. It’s about creating safety and calm and comfort, which is critical to first aid. It’s also about self-empowerment and hope, which are principles that are important in psychological first aid.

“We are honoured to help with Helping Hand and are looking forward to taking it to more children around the world that need it. If you aren’t in business to make a positive difference in the world, then maybe you shouldn’t be in business at all.”

Attensi is looking to secure further funding and Partner with a range of NGOs to distribute the app as widely as possible through further localisation, translations and design updates.