From Childline to online: how mental health apps can support teens

Summary

Today is World Mental Health Day, with a focus on young people and mental health in a changing world. We feel privileged to be in one of several teams at NHS England and NHS Digital working in partnership all year round to ensure that those experiencing stress and anxiety can find the right support online when they need it most.

By Louise Mushet and Victoria Hunt, 10 October 2018

Louise Mushet and Victoria Hunt

Hello, we’re Louise Mushet (senior service designer) and Victoria Hunt (NHS Apps Library product owner) from the Apps and Wearables programme at NHS Digital.

Today is World Mental Health Day, with a focus on young people and mental health in a changing world. We feel privileged to be in one of several teams at NHS England and NHS Digital working in partnership all year round to ensure that those experiencing stress and anxiety can find the right support online when they need it most.

Our teenage citizens research findings, led by our colleague, user researcher Janet Morgan, show that a young person’s first port of call when dealing with a mental health issue – often related to bullying, anxiety or depression – is online, with many young people also citing Childline.

Personal preference also plays a part. Digital channels allow teens to remain anonymous, access lots of information, and find support to best suit their needs – some spoke of not wanting to speak to someone in person:

“She’d probably go online first, to see if there’s any help there.” (Teenage girl discussing a character she created)

But it can be difficult to make sense of which channels are better than others. Some forums were described as being “negative”, “too much” or “not genuine”:

“The thing is it can be really negative what you read online so it could make it worse.” (Teenage boy)

One online survey among one thousand 11-18 year-olds showed that:

  • 55 per cent used mobiles to learn about health
  • 52 per cent used apps to track diet, fitness or health
  • 44 per cent reported being worried about incorrect information

 

Mental health on the NHS Apps Library

The NHS Apps Library helps users to find trusted health and wellbeing apps that have been assessed by the NHS as clinically safe and secure to use.

Many of these apps have been designed not to look too clinical, which we know is appealing to teens, who don’t want to use something that looks too medical because:

“It can imply there’s something wrong with you” (Teenage girl)

Mental health is the most popular category on the Apps Library, receiving 175,000 visits in the last 12 months while still in Beta.

Four of the top five most visited app pages sit within this category, including Chill Panda, which sports an icon that looks as friendly and non-clinical as it sounds:

Chill Panda app on NHS Apps library. Image shows a panda head and description of the app.

For this demographic, apps need to be highly visual with an eye-catching icon.

Another key need identified with this group is the ability to personalise. They want to tailor the app to their situations, something which the Catch It app – currently the most visited app page in the library – enables as it asks you to record your mood in three simple steps: 

  • ‘Catch It’ records and rates your mood.
  • ‘Check It’ asks you to take a moment to reflect on what you’re thinking.
  • ‘Change It’ asks you to think about a better way of dealing with a problem.

Links with the NHS website

The category’s success is largely down to the NHS website’s mental health team, led by our colleague Ros Hewitt, product manager at NHS.UK. By placing more than 30 links to the mental health category across their conditions pages, they have achieved 16 of the top 20 referrals to the NHS Apps Library.

These include pages on low self-esteem and understanding stress, both of which resonate with teenagers.

Ros’s team recently launched their psychological therapies (IAPT) finder – another way that over-16s can find support without having to go through their GP or another adult. Ros blogged about this project back in May.

Health and wellbeing outcomes

The latest NHS Apps Library release went live on 3 October and included a long-awaited search tool. This means that users looking for mental health apps can now search by keyword (such as  ‘stress’,  ‘depression’ and ‘anxiety’) as well as filtering by category.

Mobile phone with the app library and stress in the search box.

This, along with the NHS Apps Library featuring on the NHS website homepage, links within conditions pages, and potential future links from the NHS App, means we’re on track to deliver one of our key benefits: ensuring people are better able to take an active role in managing their own mental and physical health.