A Virtual Community promoting mental Health, psychosocial Adjustment, and peer supporT (vCHAT) for patients living with increased risk for COVID-19

Nolan, Robert P | $199,049

Ontario University Health Network 2020 CIHR Operating Grant

In the age of COVID-19, patients with chronic heart failure (CHF) or advanced chronic kidney disease (CKD) are at increased risk of experiencing psychological distress, social isolation, and decreased quality of life. The potential threat of COVID‑19 has placed increased strain on patients and family members. To overcome this challenge, an innovative program of social network support and automated digital counseling is needed to meaningfully address the mental health needs and psychosocial challenges of Canadians with increased vulnerability to COVID-19. This 12-month study will evaluate the clinical benefit of vCHAT (a program of social network support and automated digital counseling) to promote mental health for outpatients with CKD or CHF. Our team includes professionals in health and mental health care, and patient representatives. We will recruit 480 outpatients from CHF and CKD clinics at 2 hospitals in Toronto, Canada. vCHAT will provide access by internet or smart phone to chat rooms and weekly 30-minute webcast presentations or group discussions by health professionals and patient representatives, with 30-minute question-answer periods. The webcasts will be supported by resources from our previous clinical trials and organized by mental health themes such as living well in the age of COVID-19. We hypothesize that over repeated assessments at baseline, 2, 4, 6, and 10 months, vCHAT will improve mental health and quality of life, while decreasing loneliness and perceived social isolation. Analyses of vCHAT will also provide novel insight into key program features of social network support or automated digital counseling that predict positive mental health. This proposed study builds on our previous clinical trials for digital counseling and peer support. vCHAT will provide information that is essential for tailoring digital interventions to the needs of vulnerable populations in Canada, and for mitigating the secondary mental health impacts of COVID-19.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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