Geneva – An app to help psychotic people in crisis

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A UNIGE team has invented a smartphone device reserved for schizophrenics or paranoid people. Objective: to continuously improve their treatment.

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“At this moment, I have the impression of hearing or seeing things that others do not perceive” is one of about thirty questions that can be answered by the patient. By dragging a slider on a scale from 1 to 7 – from “not at all” to “extremely” – it takes about two minutes to complete the entire questionnaire.

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Maude Schneider (standing), professor at the Faculty of Psychology at UNIGE and co-author of the project with Clémence Feller (seated), doctoral student at the Faculty of Psychology at UNIGE.

Maude Schneider (standing), professor at the Faculty of Psychology at UNIGE and co-author of the project with Clémence Feller (seated), doctoral student at the Faculty of Psychology at UNIGE.

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Digital technology helps tormented minds: this is the mission of two researchers from the University of Geneva (UNIGE). They are the authors of an innovative project which aims to prevent a worsening of the state of health of people with psychotic disorders (ie 3% of the population, especially adolescents), and to better adapt their medical monitoring. Professor and doctoral student at the Faculty of Psychology, Maude Schneider and Clémence Feller have created a free application, still in testing, for those who suffer from schizophrenia or paranoia, in particular.

Psychotic disorders are characterized by two types of symptoms, combined or isolated. “Patients can suffer from hallucinations,” explains Maude Schneider. They are mostly visual or auditory, like schizophrenics who hear voices. ” Another characteristic: “delusional” ideas, such as the impression of being “constantly persecuted or spied on – this is paranoia – or of having special powers, such as stealing.” Some are also persuaded to be “elected”, who must “carry a message on Earth”. It is the intensity and frequency of these disorders, when they have profound consequences on behavior, that lead to a psychiatric diagnosis.

While today psychotic people follow quarterly checks, the app would drastically increase the pace. On a voluntary basis, with the collaboration of the therapist, the patient would receive each month for six days in a row, and several times a day, about thirty statements related to his pathology: “At the moment, I have the impression. to hear things that others do not perceive ”-“ I do not feel safe ”. The user specifies his state of mind via a cursor that goes from “not at all” to “extremely”. Secure and subject to medical confidentiality, the questionnaire is completed in two minutes and sent to the doctor almost within an hour.

Relieve and anticipate crises

Questions about the user’s mental state allow better monitoring. “Thanks to the data received, a practitioner who notices an anxiety attack in his patient can contact him to recommend a respiratory exercise”, illustrates Clémence Feller. Certain questions relate to the place or the personal environment of the user “to identify in the long term the factors which favor the onset of symptoms,” adds Maude Schneider. This will make it possible to better anticipate crises. ” The duo warns: “There is no question of replacing the consultations. The app is an additional tool to improve the care process. ”

The device is at the experimental stage. Supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, which has contributed some 10,000 francs, the project requires more aid to develop on a large scale. Their fingers crossed their fingers: “We hope to get there within three to five years.”

A first practical test of the application was carried out between 2018 and 2021, with 86 people, almost half of whom were women. Aged 11 to 27, the participants were mainly French-speaking Swiss. However, the panel included a few people living in France and Belgium. Today, discussions are underway with the Vaudois University Hospital Center (CHUV) in Lausanne for a new test. This time it would concern psychotic patients after leaving their internment. “It is a critical moment for them, which requires good follow-up”, note the two researchers from UNIGE.

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