To mark the official launch of our research into digital mental health services for young people, we hosted an expert panel discussion on Thursday 20th June at One Moorgate Place in London.
Our MD Registry Solutions & Public Benefit, Eleanor Bradley, welcomed panellists and attendees to the session. With a mission to invest real time, money and energy into helping to tackle the mental health crisis, Eleanor announced Nominet’s plan to launch its first funding programme supporting charities developing digital mental health services later this year.
Eleanor handed the mic to Gareth Germer, COO of Samaritans, who highlighted that technology means that access to essential support is no longer defined by a person’s geographical location. The Samaritans team are on a digital journey like many other charities and wouldn’t have gotten that far if it wasn’t for Tech for Good funding, which allowed them to explore the potential of digital to help with key areas and stubborn issues that haven’t been possible to crack so far.
This year, Samaritans will be introducing a self-help tool to support young people early on in their mental health journey. The aim of the tool is to offer a new channel of support to those, in particular, young people, who are unable or find it difficult to use the helpline and prefer to access online self-help materials.
The development of the self-help tool is part of a wider digital transformation strategy that the Samaritans are working hard to bring to life. For those who are in immediate emotional distress, the Samaritans are currently piloting a real-time written word service to support people in a way that works for them.
Our second keynote speaker, Angela Kail, Director of Research and Consulting at NPC took to the stage next. As the world around children becomes increasingly digital, young people also expect mental health services to be available digitally too. Digital services can offer solutions to specific mental health conditions that otherwise wouldn’t be so easily available to young people.
Angela noted that charities haven’t always been able to respond to the different ways people are seeking access to their services, but digital provides this opportunity.
However, “there are huge challenges for charities – cost, lack of infrastructure, lack of knowledge, the substantial inroads made by the private sector in digital mental health space”, said Angela.
The issue for charities, service designers, private sector, mental health funders, digital funders is to provide a sector that is more coherent than it currently is.
Dr Nihara Krause stressed the need to offer young people effective services that they can actually use. There are now over 327,000 mental health apps available, and less than 1/3 of these have a scientific or evidence-based framework. As consumers, young people don’t know where to go or what to trust. As a result, it’s very difficult for young people to access evidence-based help early in their mental health journey.
In terms of the near future, Nihara would like to find out what digital services work and for who. “We know one size doesn’t fit all – do we offer different tools based on gender or culture?”
Nihara also emphasised that we can’t create good mental health services for young people if we don’t involve the adults – we need to think about what tools we could offer adults (parents, teachers, guardians etc) who are supporting young people with mental health issues.
Lastly, Nihara discussed the need “to understand the long-term effectiveness of using digital, we know it works at the moment, but we don’t know about the long term”, emphasising the need for continued research in this relatively new area of digital mental health support.
Eve Critchley, Head of Digital at Mind, addressed that “early intervention can make a massive difference” when dealing with mental health issues. However, “stigma is still a big issue and young people don’t necessarily think of the charity sector when trying to get help”. Typically, they will visit their GP instead of seeking support from charities, which isn’t necessarily a problem, but given the current pressure on the system, charities may be a quicker route to support
Eve also highlighted the possible unintended consequences of digital in this space. Currently, some people are struggling to access non-digital support that is free and should be easy to reach. The danger of innovation is that it could further exclude those that are most vulnerable and already unable to access services. On the other hand, for others who have previously been excluded for reasons such as location, the innovation of mental health services can provide new opportunities to access support.
Eve also made the point that many young people going through a difficult time don’t recognise this as a mental health problem. In order to provide the most appropriate support, charities like Mind need to figure out where they are in their mental health journey in a way that suits them.
Debbie Floyd, 111 Online Implementation Lead at NHS Digital, highlighted that one of the issues NHS Digital has experienced is that services across the country aren’t uniform, and neither are the technical systems behind them. The inconsistency can lead to problems for the team to link and signpost to appropriate services, making it difficult to integrate the expertise of mental health charities within the framework of the NHS.
Victoria Hornby, Chief Executive of Mental Health Innovations, highlighted the opportunity of digital to provide support to young people in a time of extremely stretched services, stating “we don’t have enough resources for face to face services for everyone that needs it. In particular, young people. ”However, walking into face-to-face support services can be intimidating, especially for young people, and often the reason they are drawn to looking for help online is that it’s anonymous and confidential. Along with this, digital channels are methods of communication that young people are comfortable with, and charities should adapt their services to meet this demand.
Digital mental health services can make support easier, and don’t need rationing in the same way that face-to-face services do. More data is required so that tools can be built based on insights, and this insight will inform what is missing or needed for a digital service.
We’re passionate about finding opportunities in which technology can be used for good, and this helps steer the direction of our public benefit work.
We’re committed to further investigating the challenges and areas of potential of the topic – mental health, young people and digital services.
To this end, we recently commissioned a report Charities, Young People and Digital Mental Health Services, through which we have started to identify areas that charities could further refine their work in order to access and support young people in a way that will be even more effective.
Originally published here.