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Patients who use educational resources, such as the Depression Center Toolkit, are much more likely to become an active and engaged participant in managing his or her own health.
Patient education materials such as the Depression Center Toolkit can play a central role in shifting a patient from that of a passive recipient of health services to an active and engaged participant in managing his or her own health. The University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center launched the newly revised Depression Center Toolkit for patients, families, and caregivers in July 2018. The Toolkit provides information, support, and resources to manage one’s mental health and promote recovery from depression and other mental health conditions.
It also offers help to family members and caregivers of those who suffer from mood disorders, and all people who wish to understand mental illnesses. For example, the partner of someone with depression can refer the person to Toolkit resources that can be used to help manage medication use and prepare for an upcoming appointment with a clinician. The Toolkit can also equip the partner with strategies to offer support in case of a crisis. The previous version of the Toolkit ( developed in 2009), provided this kind of information and guidance to more than 250,000 people annually (1,040,005 unique visitors from 2015 to 2018) from more than 200 countries across the globe, making it a leading international resource for mood disorders.
To maintain the validity of recommendations and incorporate new insights in the field, improve user experience, and enhance understandability, the site’s organization and content was fully updated. The Toolkit adheres to Federal Plain Language Guidelines to ensure comprehension by all site visitors regardless of literacy level. The Toolkit also follows best practices in web design and navigation, and the new website design is responsive to a variety of devices and screen sizes (eg, tablets, phones) for an optimal viewing experience.
What steps were taken to develop the Toolkit?
To ensure maximal utility and accuracy, a comprehensive group of stakeholders-both those who have personal experience with mental illness and mental health experts-served as Toolkit advisors throughout the development process. The stakeholders were viewed as an integral part of the planning and writing process. The Project Leads first conducted a needs assessment to identify gaps and organizational issues in the existing Toolkit. More than 20 experts then reviewed the entirety of the site’s content to ensure that it reflects current medical knowledge and practice. Moreover, two patient and family focus groups provided feedback on content completeness as well as the understandability and actionability of the materials. Finally, a Beta version of the site was assessed by six external professional content experts and 48 online patient advisors.
What does the Toolkit include and how is it organized?
The Toolkit provides detailed educational information, tools to better manage a mental illness, strategies to incorporate into a health regimen, and steps toward making lasting lifestyle changes. The Toolkit also nurtures open communication about mental health and prioritizes earlier recognition, treatment adherence, and the significance of overall health. Finally, it emphasizes the importance of secondary prevention, ie, the prevention of recurrences of bipolar, depression, and related conditions.
The Toolkit is logically organized into five major sections or “entry points” on the site’s homepage according to the user’s primary purpose for visiting the site.
• I’m Not Feeling Well includes information about depression and related disorders and treatment options.
• I Want to Stay Mentally Healthy provides tips for adopting a healthy lifestyle, strategies for sticking with a treatment plan, managing mood, and staying healthy, and advice for coping at work.
• I Want to Support Someone includes tips on how to support different individuals with a mental illness, tips on how to support yourself as a caregiver, strategies to support someone in a crisis, and advice on how to support a suicide loss survivor.
• I Want to Be a Mental Health Advocate provides information on raising awareness and fighting stigma as well as participating in mental health research.
• I’m Looking for More Resources includes links to websites with additional information about mental health and self-assessment tools (e.g. PHQ-9, GAD-7), over 50 printable fact sheets, and charts to learn more and track treatment progress.
Why you should recommend the Toolkit to your patients
Patients who use educational resources are much more likely to follow physician instructions, adhere to medication regimens, and make necessary lifestyle changes. The Toolkit’s content is logically organized into sections and written in plain language, to ensure that the material is understandable and not overwhelming. The Toolkit not only incorporates evidence-based, credible, and up-to-date medical information, but it includes user-friendly, patient-centered, action-oriented materials and provides practical tools for managing mood disorders and anxiety.
The Toolkit will be updated over time with the latest developments in the field. The on-site survey will also enable the Toolkit’s developers to incorporate feedback from all audiences. The Depression Center Toolkit is available to the public for free at depressioncenter.org/toolkit.
Dr Parikh is Associate Director, University of Michigan Depression Center, John F. Greden Professor of Depression and Clinical Neuroscience, and Professor of Psychiatry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI; Ms Taubman is Technical Writer and Evaluator, University of Michigan Depression Center, Ann Arbor, MI.