According to Young Minds (2018a), one in ten children have a diagnosable mental health disorder – that’s roughly three children in every classroom (Green et al., 2005) – and half of all mental health problems manifest by the age of fourteen (Kessler et al., 2005). Websites and applications have unlocked myriad opportunities for teaching and learning. But can this technology be simultaneously utilised to support the mental health and wellbeing of our young people?

In recent years, the government has carried out work to explore opportunities provided by new technology to increase access to mental health services for children and young people (Jerrim et al., 2017). The coalition government’s strategy for improving children’s mental health services, ‘Future in Mind’ proposed that ‘with additional funding, we could also empower young people to self-care through increased availability of new quality assured apps and digital tools’. (Department of Health and NHS England, 2015, p.14). Dr R Rebholz’s thesis on adolescent mental wellbeing introduces a ‘wellbeing barometer’ (Rebholz, 2011). For most year groups, when asked the question, ‘Do you know where to get support?’, the same answers kept coming up: young people were unsure of when to seek help, who they should contact and where to access help in their school and local community. When I delivered an INSET on mental health, we soon discovered the problem was exacerbated by teachers not feeling trained in the language needed to discuss the issues facing their students. We needed a new platform covering the definitions of the mental health concerns facing young people and offering information on the help available. We needed it to be easily accessible for students, parents and teachers, both in and outside of school.

According to Bakker et al., ‘Mental Health apps and other technology-based solutions have the potential to play an important part in the future of mental health care, making mental health support more accessible and reducing barriers to help seeking.’ (Bakker et al., 2016, p.1) With the knowledge that smartphones are the most popular and widely available platform, building a smartphone application was the obvious choice.

The My TeenMind app was a unit delivered to my Year 9 mixed ability media studies students. The students led the design and content selection for the project, working with Gaia Tech (2017, 2018), a leading provider of ICT products and solutions to education institutions. This ensured that the student voice was heard, whilst also providing an opportunity for vocational experience with an established ed-tech brand. I created a cross-curricular scheme of work around the topic ‘app design’, focusing on researching the industry, codes and conventions of apps, and enabling students to investigate what was most relevant and appealing to their age group. They came up with four themed areas: My Mind, My Body, My Relationships and My Relaxation. The students concluded that the success of the app would depend on user-friendly language, presenting key information on definition, signs, advice and where to get help. With the template firmly in place, they began researching online NHS and mental wellbeing websites, like Young Minds (2018b), SANE (2018) and Mind, to find the relevant information for their peers.

The purpose of the app was twofold:

  • to provide whole-school pastoral support
  • to develop the digital literacy of Year 9 media students.

To ensure that safeguarding procedures were followed, all content, including choice of language and weblinks, was checked before publication by the mental wellbeing charity Working Mind, mental health nurses, social workers, designated safeguarding leads and educational professionals.

Impact

All students benefited, gaining invaluable skills for future career development. On a whole-school level, using this app enabled teachers, parents and students to begin the essential discussions around mental health. Students were encouraged to fully explore the app, to ensure that they understood what support was out there if they needed it. Seven PSHE lessons were planned around the app, encouraging students to envisage different fictional scenarios, using the app to problem-solve and find solutions.

The My TeenMind app has been gratefully received by teachers and parents alike, as it serves the purpose of being a 24-hour digital resource. As the websites and hyperlinks have all been checked by the school and mental health professionals, parents also feel that their children are protected from venturing onto sites that may be more harmful than helpful.  Several schools have customised it using their school colours, badges and house system to increase its appeal. The reason for its success is that it is widely accessible, immediately available and feels personal to the individual.

If you want to contact Gaia Tech to see how you can customise the app for your school, then visit these sites and see their available templates:

Gaia TeenMind: computingframework.co.uk/product/secondary-gaia-teen-mind

Gaia YoungMind: computingframework.co.uk/product/primary-gaia-young-mind

References

Bakker D, Kazantzis N, Rickwood D et al. (2016) Mental health smartphone apps: Review and evidence-based recommendations for future developments. JMIR Mental Health. DOI: 10.2196/mental.4984.

Department of Health and NHS England (2015) Future in Mind: Promoting, protecting and improving our children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/414024/Childrens_Mental_Health.pdf (accessed 29 September 2018).

Gaia Technologies (2017) Gaia app development project-based learning. Available at: https://www.computingframework.co.uk/product/secondary-gaia-teen-mind/ (accessed 29 September 2018).

Gaia Technologies (2018) Gaia app development project testimonial, 31 May 2018. Available at: https://youtu.be/YG7nol-j9j0 (accessed 29 September 2018).

Green H, McGinnity A, Meltzer H et al. (2005) Mental Health of Children and Young People in Great Britain, 2004. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

Jerrim J, Perera N and Sellen P (2017) ‘About the Education Policy Institute’, 1–54.

Kessler RC, Berglund P, Demler O et al. (2005) Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the national comorbidity survey replication. Archives of General Psychiatry 62(6): 593–602.

Rebholz RE (2011) Promoting mental health: Students’ perspectives and experiences of a university environment. PhD Thesis, University of Hertfordshire, UK.

SANE (2018) What we do. Available at: http://www.sane.org.uk/what_we_do/about_sane/ (accessed 29 September 2018).

Woking Mind (2015) Woking Mind for better mental health. Available at: http://wokingmind.org.uk/ (accessed 29 September 2018).

Young Minds (2018a) Mental health stats. Available at: https://youngminds.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/mental-health-stats/ (accessed 29 September 2018).

Young Minds (2018b) Are mental health apps part of your #LifeOnTheWeb? Available at: https://youngminds.org.uk/blog/are-mental-health-apps-part-of-your-lifeontheweb/ (accessed 30 October 2018).