Evaluating the Utility of a Psychoeducational Serious Game (SPARX) in Protecting Inuit Youth From Depression: Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial

Bohr, Yvonne; Litwin, Leah; Hankey, Jeffrey Ryan; McCague, Hugh; Singoorie, Chelsea; Lucassen, Mathijs F. G.; Shepherd, Matthew and Barnhardt, Jenna (2023). Evaluating the Utility of a Psychoeducational Serious Game (SPARX) in Protecting Inuit Youth From Depression: Pilot Randomized Controlled Trial. JMIR Serious Games, 11, article no. e38493.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.2196/38493


Inuit youth in Northern Canada show considerable resilience in the face of extreme adversities. However, they also experience significant mental health needs and some of the highest adolescent suicide rates in the world. Disproportionate rates of truancy, depression, and suicide among Inuit adolescents have captured the attention of all levels of government and the country. Inuit communities have expressed an urgent imperative to create, or adapt, and then evaluate prevention and intervention tools for mental health. These tools should build upon existing strengths, be culturally appropriate for Inuit communities, and be accessible and sustainable in Northern contexts, where mental health resources are often scarce.

This pilot study assesses the utility, for Inuit youth in Canada, of a psychoeducational e-intervention designed to teach cognitive behavioral therapy strategies and techniques. This serious game, SPARX, had previously demonstrated effectiveness in addressing depression with Māori youth in New Zealand.

The Nunavut Territorial Department of Health sponsored this study, and a team of Nunavut-based community mental health staff facilitated youth’s participation in an entirely remotely administered pilot trial using a modified randomized control approach with 24 youths aged 13-18 across 11 communities in Nunavut. These youth had been identified by the community facilitators as exhibiting low mood, negative affect, depressive presentations, or significant levels of stress. Entire communities, instead of individual youth, were randomly assigned to an intervention group or a waitlist control group.

Mixed models (multilevel regression) revealed that participating youth felt less hopeless (P=.02) and engaged in less self-blame (P=.03), rumination (P=.04), and catastrophizing (P=.03) following the SPARX intervention. However, participants did not show a decrease in depressive symptoms or an increase in formal resilience indicators.

Preliminary results suggest that SPARX may be a good first step for supporting Inuit youth with skill development to regulate their emotions, challenge maladaptive thoughts, and provide behavioral management techniques such as deep breathing. However, it will be imperative to work with youth and communities to design, develop, and test an Inuit version of the SPARX program, tailored to fit the interests of Inuit youth and Elders in Canada and to increase engagement and effectiveness of the program.

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