Caught in or out of the web? Do people with severe mental ill health have the skills they need to fully engage with and benefit from the Internet and digital technologies? 


by Dr Panos Spanakis and Dr Ruth Wadman

SPIDER (Skills and Proficiency In Digital Essential Requirements) is a new survey study that aims to document the extent to which people with severe mental ill-health (SMI) have the essential digital skills to engage with the online world. We aim to identify the sociodemographic and health characteristics that influence this and also compare our findings with data on essential digital skills in the general UK population.

Access to the internet and knowing how to use digital devices are important for everyday life and work. The digitalisation of life and services has accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Many people have found access to the digital world invaluable, for example using the internet to work from home, to connect with friends via social media and videoconferencing, and to order shopping. 

We know that many people with severe mental ill-health also have long-standing physical health problems. Crucially for this group, both physical health and mental health support services, along with other types of support such as information, groups and self-help resources, are increasingly being accessed online. 

SPIDER researcher Lauren Walker explains: “It is really important to understand the extent to which people with severe mental ill-health are digitally excluded, but also how this group can potentially benefit from being digitally engaged.”   

People with SMI will complete a survey based on the Essential Digital Skills framework used by the Department of Education to define and monitor the five digital skills that are considered essential for everyday life and work: a) Being safe, legal and confident online, b) Communicating, c) Problem solving, d) Transacting and e) Handling information and content.

This is the first time a standardised assessment tool for digital skills will be applied to people with SMI in the UK. Our findings will be useful to those developing and providing services for people with SMI.   

Further details can be found on the SPIDER website

The SPIDER survey is part of the wider OWLS study (Optimising Wellbeing during Self-isolation)

We are working in partnership with the Good Things Foundation, a leading UK charity in digital inclusion.

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