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SPIDER: Skills and Proficiency In Digital Essential Requirements

SPIDER is a survey study seeking to understand whether people with severe mental ill health have the skills they need to fully engage with and benefit from the Internet and digital technologies

What is SPIDER about?

Access to the internet and knowing how to use digital devices are important for everyday life and work. The restrictions imposed in social contact and mobility during the COVID-19 pandemic have accelerated digitalisation of life and services on an unprecedented scale. This study 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 and identify the sociodemographic and health characteristics that influence this. Another aim is to compare our findings with publicly available data from the general UK population. 

How will SPIDER achieve its goals?

A team of researchers in University of York, together with colleagues in primary and secondary health settings, will approach people with a diagnosis of SMI and invite them to complete a survey. The survey is 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.

The framework assesses the extent to which respondents can perform specific digital tasks (e.g. connect a device to Wi-Fi, attach documents to an e-mail, or set privacy settings on a social media account) and an algorithm is applied to determine the extent to which respondents hold foundation skills, skills for life and skills for work.

What will be SPIDER's impact?

This is the first time that a standardised assessment tool for digital skills will be applied to people with SMI in the UK. This means our results will be directly comparable to other populations, which will help understand the extent of the digital divide in people with SMI. The information provided through SPIDER will be useful to health-care policy makers and researchers, working in the area of development and implementation of digital interventions, and to services for people with SMI. Ultimately, these findings will be to help understand whether policies are needed to ensure that people with SMI are not left behind in the process of digitalising services.

Who is the SPIDER team?

The internal University of York partners are Dr Panagiotis Spanakis, Paul Heron, Lauren Walker and Dr Ruth Wadman.

Our external partners are Prof John Baker, from Leeds University and Dr Alice Mathers from The Good Things Foundation.

The study is funded by the UKRI Closing the Gap Network and is supported by the NIHR Yorkshire and Humber Applied Research Collaboration Mental Health theme.

Other resources

SPIDER-ED: Skills and Proficiency In Digital Essential Requirements - Engagement and Dissemination

Following on from SPIDER, a project funded by the Closing the Gap (CtG) Network has been undertaken collaboratively with a PPIE group with lived experience of mental ill health. The PPIE group has led on developing creative resources that may be useful for supporting people to become more confident and digitally literate.

The resources have been designed for supporting those with lived experience of Severe Mental Ill Health (SMI) and healthcare professionals who care for them, with the aim of promoting confidence to have conversations about digital exclusion and the help people may need to do things online.

We are working in partnership with the Good Things Foundation and Equally Well.


Here are the links to our resources: - Find out more about the project.

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