HS Sprint project: ‘Just-In-Time-Adaptive Mechanisms’

Mental health-apps in co-creation with youth
Project lead: Caroline Figueroa (TU Delft)
Partners: TU Delft, Erasmus Universiteit Rotterdam, Erasmus MC, Jong JGZ, Gemeente Rotterdam, Gro-Up, Stichting Jeugdwerk
Team: Danielle Remmerswaal (EUR), Anouk Mols (EUR), Jason Pridmore (EUR), Niko Vegt (EUR), Aaron Ding (TU Delft), Jiwon Jung (Erasmus MC/TU Delft), Helma Torkamaan (TU Delft), Wilma Jansen (Gemeente Rotterdam), Amy van Grieken (EMC), Junwen Jang (Erasmus MC), Hein Raat (Jong JGZ), Eva Thalassinou (Gro-Up),  Gerben Kuipers (Gro-Up), Manaar Faloun (Stichting Jeugdwerk)

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health problems among young people have increased. Mental health apps can provide access to preventative support, but evidence for the effectiveness of these apps in young people from diverse backgrounds, particularly those from low socioeconomic status and ethnically/racially diverse backgrounds, is limited. The HS Sprint project ‘Just-In-Time-Adaptive Mechanisms’ has researched this.

Participatory action research

With this research, the project aimed to achieve three goals:

  1. Understand the needs, wants and concerns of young people from diverse backgrounds in relation to mental health apps, with a focus on personalisation with ‘just-in-time’ mechanisms
  2. Get ideas to design mental health apps through co-creation
  3. Understanding perspectives of preventive youth workers regarding the integration of mental health apps into their care (practice)

We used a participatory action approach where young people were both co-designers and co-researchers. We held three brainstorming sessions through the Youth Work Foundation with 18 young people with a non-Western migration background between the ages of 11 and 22, through community centres in Rotterdam and The Hague. These brainstorming sessions were collectively developed by TU Delft, EUR, Erasmus MC, Stichting Jeugdwerk and Gro-Up. In addition, we organized a discussion session with 33 youth workers from Gro-Up. Some of the young people participated in the data analysis as co-researchers.

Young people’s vision

The young people were both skeptical and enthusiastic about mental health apps. They indicated that apps can help reduce stress, for example through motivational quotes, suggestions for social activities, or learning new skills.

The young people emphasized that it is important to include the identity of users when designing mental health apps. According to them, themes such as religion, gender and age were examples that had to be taken into account. They also indicated that it is important that messaging from the app takes place at the right time and with the right frequency (Just-In-Time-Adaptive Mechanisms).

Lastly, young people indicated that the apps could be a useful tool to connect with a youth worker or psychologist or with peers, to exchange experiences.

Vision of youth workers

The youth workers indicated that they do not currently use mental health apps to support their work. They were skeptical about the use of the apps, but indicated that they believed that apps can help young people find reliable information and help them connect with youth workers at the right time.


Conclusion and follow-up

The mental health apps can only be used effectively for young people from diverse backgrounds if they are involved in the design of these new tools. They provide valuable input, so that the tools are more in line with their identity and daily context. In addition, it is important that youth employees learn more about the effectiveness of the apps and how they can be used, so that they can make optimal use of them in daily (care) practice.

As a result of this Sprint project, a team is currently following up on these results. Brainstorming sessions on AI and mental health will be organised and we will take the first steps to develop a mental health app in co-creation with young people.


Do you have questions about this project or would you like to collaborate? Please contact Caroline Figueroa.