This article celebrates World Mental Heath Day, 10 October, 2014.
Mental health continues to be an overlooked and underfunded issue, despite suicide being the second leading cause of death for 15-29 year-olds globally. Shortages of mental health professionals and stigma surrounding mental health issues are the main barriers to treatment in low- and middle-income countries, while most high-income countries lack a unified and integrated approach for supporting youth experiencing mental health and emotional issues.
Over the last three years, the team at Innovation Labs in the UK has worked with over 100 young people, youth mental health professionals, digital agencies and partner charities to develop digital tools to improve young people’s mental health and well-being. The result? Seven well researched, expertly tailored apps and websites that offer a broad range of information and support for youth and those who care about them.
Mood Bug is an app that allows users to share and compare their moods with those of their friends, as well as strangers. It encourages expression and discussion of all emotions in a world where social media often focuses only on the shiny parts of life. According to the creators at MindApples, Mood Bug’s goal is “to make it easier for us all to talk about how we feel, so that we can have more open conversations and support each other better.”
Take the tour here or just go ahead and download the app. It is currently available on iPhone, although plans for Android and Blackberry are in the works.
In Hand is a ‘digital friend’ that helps users focus in a moment of stress or low mood by offering tools, advice and activities. It asks users how they are feeling, then provides images or quotes for them to scroll through, prompts them to take or view their own photos, listen to music or watch a video. If users indicate they are really not doing well, it connects them to friends or a help line so they can speak with someone directly. The level of user involvement in the development of the app is remarkable; you can watch how In Hand was designed for and by young people here.
Madly in Love is a website that helps youth who are just that – and those who are single, heartbroken, or “just up for a bit of fun” – to share, discuss and get advice on relationships, sex and mental health. The site has space for youth to share their own experiences through photos, stories or music playlists as well as resources for seeking advice and support. Current posts cover issues including relationship anxiety, loving someone with depression, and exposing your self-harm scars to a partner.
Madly in Love is owned by YouthNet, which does loads of other cool things as well.
Doc Ready helps prepare young people for a visit to their doctor by helping them create a checklist of items to discuss. The process begins with fifteen topics including appetite, self-harm, motivation and relationships. Once a topic is selected Doc Ready suggests prompts, offering further insight into which areas of the topic the user is struggling with. Users are also able to add their own ideas to their checklist and can choose as many topics as they want. Once the user has selected all the topics they wish to discuss they are prompted to rank them in order, ensuring the most pressing ones will be covered during the visit. Doc Ready then formats the checklist onto a form, which includes space for appointment details and an area for note taking during the appointment. You have the option to print, email or download your checklist once you’re done. The printing option means that youth who are uncomfortable speaking about these issues can hand the sheet over to the doctor, making it easier to get the conversation moving.
Doc Ready is completely confidential, it doesn’t ask you to create an account or store any information that can be linked to you.
Find Get Give helps youth find local mental health services that suit their needs. It acts as a search engine for mental health services, while also providing a place for users to write reviews and give feedback. This will not only help youth find services that they are comfortable accessing, but help service providers improve.
This site is still being developed and currently focuses on boroughs in the South of England, although the idea could be applied anywhere in the world.
Other useful web resources include Well Informed, which provides practical, up to date information for people working or living with youth experiencing mental health issues, and HeadMeds, which offers information on conditions and medications, as well as personal experiences with different treatments. There you can find “everything you want to know but don’t want to ask.”
While these apps and websites are specifically tailored to youth in the UK, adapted models could be developed with youth from different countries around the world. With 75% of suicides occurring in low- and middle-income countries, easily and immediately accessible resources are urgently required. As more and more people in developing countries make the switch to smart phones, apps and websites like these can be used to distribute information and offer support.