How online mental health support can help children and young people

Sarah O’Donnell, senior business development manager at Big White Wall explains how young people could benefit from online mental health support.

The largest report into the mental wellbeing of children and young people in the UK was published in November last year, making for some critical headlines. The report found that in 2017, one in eight young people in England (12.8%) under the age of 19 suffered from a mental health disorder.

Worryingly, these numbers show an upward trend from similar results in 2004. That report showed only one in 10 children between the ages of five and 15 had an illness.

So, what is being done to help support and more importantly, what else is needed to ensure they have the mental health support and services they need?


The unfulfilled promise of improved mental health care

Both David Cameron and Theresa May’s governments vowed to increase spending on mental health services and facilities – including those that serve young people.

However, a report showcased to BBC’s Panorama paints a picture of some areas having to ration child and adolescent care as they struggle to deal with rising patient numbers. In the report, leading psychiatrist Dr Jon Goldin described current child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) as “not fit for purpose.”

The Panorama report found that staff working in other services said that only one in four children with a mental health condition currently receives treatment.


The role of digital in child and adolescent care

We are often quick to scapegoat social media as being the root cause of many of the mental health issues faced by children and young people, and there is research which links the two together. But, this does not mean we should disregard digital as a cause for good.

Digital Health Age recently published an article on why you should challenge this narrative. Digital platforms could  be key to supporting young people with their mental health.

In fact, connected technologies go a long way towards solving some of the biggest challenges faced by CAMHS.


Offering support in young peoples’ chosen channels

It’s no surprise that many young people choose to spend their time on the internet. In fact, 37.5% of 15-year-olds in the UK are classed as extreme internet users, spending over six hours a day online.

With so many young people using online channels regularly, it makes sense to use the internet as a source for good in the struggle for improved mental health.

An added benefit of using online channels is that young people are already comfortable using them. This is particularly important for those with mental health conditions that are worsened by stressful or unfamiliar environments.

By building support services in a channel that is familiar and second nature to many young people, the service can deliver more effective treatment, and is likely to be used more widely.


The advantage of anonymity

The anonymity provided by internet platforms offers young people an additional resource alongside real-world support programmes.

For many young people, opening up about their mental health is far easier when they are able to conceal their identity.

Big White Wall, an online mental health support service, recently conducted a survey of its users. It found that 90% of respondents said anonymity was the most important factor driving them to use the service.

The report also found that 75% of students experiencing difficulties don’t seek support. With this in mind, it’s clear that any form of new and innovative support should be welcomed.


Breaking down barriers

According to a freedom of information request conducted by Panorama, more than 1.5 million under-18s in England do not live in areas where they have access to 24/7 mental health care.

This has resulted in patients having to travel long distances to receive treatment, sometimes hundreds of miles away from their home.

Web based platforms have a significant advantage here, as they aren’t tied to a physical location.  Every young person can have the opportunity to access to support and services.


Complementing traditional services

While seeking support from core NHS services is still be the first port of call for those suffering from poor mental health, there is a clear need for additional support services to supplement.

The good news is, whether we’re dealing with of shortage of physical treatment centres or a blind spot between adolescent and adult mental health, additional solutions can be used to supplement CAMHS – and help support the UK’s young people suffering from mental illness.

By offering location-agnostic, always-on hubs of mental health services and support, online solutions can help young people can all get the help they need, when they need it.


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