Can digital technology improve mental health?

Neil Gilmour, Director of Motional, discusses how digital tools can bolster children's mental health, rather than eroding it

School children continually engage with their peers on digital technology and social networking sites, such as Instagram, Snapchat and Musical.ly. While it is sometimes harmful – reports of cyberbullying cases are increasingly commonplace – digital technology also comes with considerable benefits.

E-health tools such as websites and apps enable young people, and those supporting them, to access expert mental health and wellbeing support and advice. Such tools provide teachers with a time-efficient way to monitor the mental health of their students and for children; digital technology also provides an opportunity to share experiences with a community of like-minded people – anonymously if they so desire.

Below are five digital resources that can be used to improve the mental health outcomes of young people in schools:

·       ChatHealth

This school nurse text messaging service was developed by the Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust. ChatHealth is a confidential text messaging service which enables school children aged 11-19 to connect with their school nurse for help and advice on health and wellbeing issues, such as depression and anxiety, bullying, self-harm, alcohol, sex, drugs and body issues. Students will generally receive an instant confirmation message followed by a full response within one working day.

·       SAM App

Is an anxiety management app created by the University of the West of England, Bristol. SAM helps users understand the causes of anxiety, monitor their anxious thoughts and behaviour and manage their anxiety through self-help exercises and reflection. The app also allows users to share their experiences with the SAM community and fellow anxiety sufferers through a ‘social cloud’ feature.

·       Motional

Is an online digital screening tool, targeted to teachers, for assessing and monitoring the mental health of school children. It was developed in collaboration with two not-for-profit organisations that provide mental health training in schools: the Centre for Child Mental Health and Trauma Informed Schools UK. The website provides teachers with a time-efficient and accurate way of assessing pupils’ mental health. Once assessed, a management programme with advice and tips for improving wellbeing outcomes is generated. An app version of Motional is soon to be released and will include a feature for children to log in to and provide their views on their own mental health and wellbeing.

·       Worrinots

Created for primary school aged children dealing with anxiety and worry, this app allows children to send a written or recorded message to one of four Worrinot characters: Chomp, Shakey, Rip and Stomp. The pupil’s message is then forwarded to a designated person at the school. The app can also be used by teachers as a tool to monitor their pupils’ wellbeing and provide early intervention where necessary. Worrinots was developed with the help of child psychologists, school staff and counsellors and is Ofsted compliant.

·       WellHappy

Is an app for London-based 12-25 year olds. The guidance and information resource contains details for accessing more than 1000 local support services for mental health, sexual health, drugs, alcohol and smoking. Through the app, young people can also blog about their own experiences, read FAQs, jargon busters and information about rights and advocacy. There is also a Well Happy website with additional information.

With teacher’s workloads persistently increasing, technology will continue to play an important role in enabling schools to screen for, and monitor, the mental health and wellbeing of their pupils. Apps and websites such as Worrinots and Motional are essential in making effective use of teachers’ busy schedules and maximising their time with children: allowing face-to-face contact to be as targeted and beneficial as possible. Access to digital mental health support also comes with an array of benefits for children, such as the ease and swiftness in which these services can be tapped into and the sense of community and shared experiences digital platforms can generate.

To read more about mental health training in schools, visit www.childmentalhealthcentre.org and http://traumainformedschools.co.uk./