Online suite ‘myEXP’ offers new platform for examining mental health treatments

December 15, 2015 | Hamilton
Contributed by Andrew Baulcomb, Advancement Officer


For many young people, seeking treatment for a mental health disorder can be a daunting task. Offering feedback on said treatment can be even more intimidating.

A new online suite called myEXP, conceived by McMaster assistant professor Gillian Mulvale, may be the first of its kind in the world to tackle this unique problem.

Developed by Mulvale and her team of student researchers, in collaboration with Halifax-based creative firm WeUsThem, myEXP provides a safe, comfortable forum for youth to share experiences and offer feedback via a familiar device – a smartphone or tablet.

We know that youth with mental disorders face considerable challenges…at the same time, we know youth don’t like to share and they don’t always like to talk to us.”

“We know that youth with mental disorders face considerable challenges,” says Mulvale, who works in the Health Policy and Management Area at McMaster’s DeGroote School of Business. “At the same time, we know youth don’t like to share and they don’t always like to talk to us.”

The service also collects valuable data from designated family members and service providers via a web-based platform, to offer a comprehensive look at a patient’s treatment plan, progress and support systems.

Mulvale and her team then study what all three parties reveal about their experiences. The next step involves looking across participants to understand what is common and what is different, in order to identify solutions to various issues.

Designed for Apple (iOS) and Android devices, myEXP offers “user-friendly interactive data collection tools” which allow youth to comment on treatment without feeling exposed or embarrassed in a face-to-face exchange.

The interface is bright, welcoming and instantly intuitive for those who have come of age utilizing all manner of apps on a mobile device. Once new data have been entered, the service transmits results to researchers in real-time and on an ongoing basis.

“myEXP enables us to understand young people’s pathways through complex health and social service systems, identify the crucial ‘touch points’ or defining moments in the experiences of each of these groups [young people, family members, service providers], and will ultimately allow them to work together to collaboratively design service improvements,” Mulvale explains.

Christina Hackett, McMaster PhD candidate

Christina Hackett, McMaster PhD candidate

“The app is going to create a new way for us as researchers to collect information about young people’s experiences,” adds Christina Hackett, a McMaster PhD candidate specializing in Health Policy. “They may not otherwise share [these experiences] with other, more traditional research methods, like sitting down and having a long interview with an adult.”

Mulvale is no stranger to ushering in broad change.

While serving with the Mental Health Commission of Canada from 2008-2010, she co-authored and helped develop the stakeholder and public engagement process for Toward Recovery and Well-being. The landmark 120-page document established the foundation upon which the current Mental Health Strategy for Canada is based.

Earlier this month, WeUsThem earned a prestigious Davey Award from the Academy of Interactive and Visual Arts (AIVA), taking home a gold medal for their groundbreaking work on the myEXP app.

“Getting involved in projects that impacts the lives of our communities is an awesome responsibility but a gratifying one considering the recent successes we have had,” says Faten Alshazly, principal and chief creative officer at WeUsThem.

Throughout the next year, myEXP will only be tested by a small sample of participants as part of the first phase of research. However, Mulvale is confident the suite will reach a larger pool of users with additional funding.

The McMaster research team is supported by an Ontario Early Researcher Award.

Gillian-Mulvale-thGillian Mulvale is an assistant professor of health policy and management at McMaster University’s DeGroote School of Business and a member of CHEPA. She holds a PhD in health research methodology from McMaster University, an MA in economics from Western University and a post-graduate diploma in health services and policy research. Mulvale researches issues in mental health policy and service delivery, through the lens of health policy analysis and health economics, to support the development of coordinated, person-centred and recovery-oriented care.

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