Mental health is an essential part of young people’s overall health. It has a complex, interactive relationship with their physical health and their ability to succeed in school, socially and developmental. Both physical and mental health effect how we think, feel and act.
Young people have a right to happy and healthy lives and deserve access to effective care to prevent or treat any mental health difficulties that they may develop. Unfortunately, mental health needs across the lifespan, and especially in regard to young people are often not adequately met. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), health disparities are most pronounced for children and youth living in low-income communities, ethnic minorities or those with special needs.
For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report in 2012 titled, “Adolescent mental health: mapping actions of nongovernmental organizations and other international development organizations”, which referred to adolescent mental health as being “inadequately addressed by international development organizations and actions at country level appear to be fragmented. Interventions for promotion of psychosocial well-being and provision of mental health care to adolescents often have narrowly-focused, project-specific objectives, while opportunities to mainstream adolescent mental health in education, health and child protection programmes are still largely untapped”.
Young people are generally referred by their General Practitioner (GP) to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). However, Young Minds UK have acknowledged that it has become increasingly difficult to do this as young people’s difficulties have to be rather severe to meet referral thresholds and waiting lists can be very long.
As a result of this, alternative pathways have been increasingly explored and developed. One such pathway is the area of online psychological supports and interventions. However, the majority of these have been targeted towards adults. Many of today’s young people are very competent, if not experts, in the newest social media platforms and other online formats. With this in mind, online psychological supports and interventions are beginning to align with these young people’s high levels of online engagement while attempting to address the lack of traditional mental health services offered.
Currently, the types of online psychological supports that are offered consist of individual webchats with trained volunteers as well as counsellors, user support groups, email services and online therapy/teletherapy. In terms of psychological treatment, a rather innovative approach that has been developed is a therapeutically interactive computer game known as Pesky gNATs. This CBT intervention is for children aged 9 and above with clinically significant anxiety and low mood. The game is designed to use in sessions where a young person plays the game along-side a mental health professional. A fully integrated smart phone App allows the young person to transfer in-session learning to home, school and community life.
SilverCloud Health offers effective, supportive programs for a range of mental and behavioral health issues to students and adults. These programs are aimed at supporting such individuals in a motivational, easy to use and interactive way. There is great potential to offer similar programs for the younger population and hopefully this is a potential that can become a reality in the future.