Leading mental health clinicians, academics and young people are to see the launch of a suite of apps designed to deal with the growing problem of youth mental health at an event celebrating the use of technology in the treatment of mental illness.
Co-designed by clinicians from one of the largest mental health trusts in the country, and young people affected by mental illness, the apps will show how mHealth can be a vital tool in the treatment of psychosis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and emotional resilience.
The Digital Health and Youth Mental Health event takes place on 30 July in Birmingham and will be opened by Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (BSMHFT) chief executive John Short and feature influential youth mental health expert Professor Max Birchwood. It will show how clinicians and service users can work together and co-produce apps that can be used as a routine part of care. It will also include personal stories from young people using the apps and participation from leading organisations involved in mental health in the region.
Professor Birchwood, professor of youth mental health at the University of Warwick, recognised the potentially enormous impact of the use of technology in helping treat mental ill health in young people. “Half of most young people up to the age of 25 will experience some form of mental health issue. Getting help quickly and appropriately is crucial. We need to use youth-appropriate channels to give young people access to help, advice and interventions during a critical period when mental health problems develop.”
Among those featured is ‘Silver Linings’, a ‘gamified’ app that encourages young people to self-manage psychosis and engage with their treatment so as to increase the chances of recovery. This app, alongside the Focus ADHD and Building Resilience apps, have been created by clinicians from BSMHFT, app experts from web development firm Appadoodle, and young people themselves.
“Silver Linings is about engaging young people using a medium they are familiar with, helping them in their recovery by better understanding psychosis,” said Dr Erin Turner, consultant psychiatrist from the early intervention service at BSMHFT.
"From a patient perspective the app will help them to understand and manage their illness, and empower them on their road to recovery. From a clinical perspective, it helps us know patients are involved in managing their own recovery, and can give us longitudinal information that helps us to tailor our treatment plans,” said Dr Turner, who led the team involved with clinical development.
Appadoodle brought its technical expertise and experience of working with young people to develop the apps with BSMHFT clinicians. Jamie Prangnell, its managing director, believes Silver Linings – available for Android smartphones via the Google Play store - to be one of the first health apps that uses gamification to support a patient’s treatment. “The app acts as a positive reinforcement and support for clinical treatment. By using game-style features such as badges and rewards, people can see how they achieve goals on their journey towards recovery.”
Dr Paul Patterson, public health lead for youth programmes at BSMHFT and lead for the resilience app, added: “With 50% of all mental health problems emerging by the age of 15 and good evidence to suggest that early intervention helps to stem the progression of mental ill health, it is clear that such issues need to be addressed in young people as early as possible. We must invest in new models of early intervention and prevention in ways that young people best engage with. Creating apps in co-participation with young people is part of the future of youth mental health in the NHS.”
According to the World Health Organization, around three quarters of mental disorders begin before 18. More than half of all adults with mental health problems were diagnosed in childhood, yet less than half were treated appropriately at the time. Tools that enable prevention and early intervention are crucial on the road to recovery, especially for illnesses such as psychosis.
The event also shows how the NHS and industry can work together for the benefits of patients. The West Midlands Academic Health Science Network (WMAHSN) supported BSMHFT to find new ways of supporting mental health provision through the YouthSpace initiative, which helps young people address mental health issues.
Neil Mortimer, WMAHSN head of programmes, said: "The NHS often struggles to engage with young people when it comes to mental health and mental illness, so we are particularly impressed by the innovative approach that YouthSpace represents; in its use of digital tools to bring practical advice and support, and in the way young people are at the heart of YouthSpace's design and delivery. WMAHSN is proud to have supported their work over the past year.”
Technology is seen as a key enabler in improving mental health, as witnessed by the NHS’s commitment to develop mental health apps as part of its Personalised Health and Care technology framework. This sets out support for the development, diffusion and adoption of low-cost high-efficacy apps with a particular priority on mental health services.