ARC Wessex Intern Rachael Middle is a Speech and Language Therapist by background but is currently in a quality improvement role in mental health and learning disability services for Isle of Wight NHS Trust.
Rachael's internship allowed her to explore digital literacy among people with a severe mental illness. Rachael worked with community mental health organisations who offered support to people with a severe mental illness and interviewed several people one-to-one or in focus groups.
As a result of her research Rachael has become one of the first ARC interns to have a paper published in the journal Frontiers in Digital Health: Experiences of digital exclusion and the impact on health in people living with severe mental illness.
Her work concluded; "digital inclusion should be viewed as a wider determinant of health. Many of the identified consequences of exclusion are particularly important in relation to mental health and mental health recovery. This research suggests that identifying and addressing digital exclusion should be viewed as a priority for mental health services."
The research gave a great insight into the attitudes and experiences of living with the severe mental illness. One person who took part in the study said:
“I think a lot of us we’re scared to use technology but at the same time we feel we’re being left behind because we’re not in that group if you like”
And on meeting in support groups: “… Its why this groups so successful, it’s not technology its people talking which makes you feel better, it’s the personal touch if you know what I mean, you can bounce off each other, you suffer like I suffer and all that but you don’t get that, not on the internet I don’t think anyway”
Rachael said of the Internship: "the internship was a brilliant experience, I learned so much and it felt like a real achievement to have published the research too, there were plenty of times when I felt like it wouldn’t happen!
I am also really hoping that the research helps raise awareness of the role of digital exclusion in health inequalities and the importance of mental health services taking proactive steps that support inclusion."
As a follow up she has been holding meetings on the Island with services and business to try to address digital exclusion.
Dr Lindsay Welch was Rachel's supervisor and a former ARC Wessex PhD trainee: "I'm delighted for Rachael; she's worked so hard on this and to see the work published is great news" Lindsay is now a programme manager for health inequalities at the Wessex Academic Health Science Network.