Last month, the Young & Well Cooperative Research Centre (Young & Well CRC) launched Goalzie, a smartphone app designed to promote positive social networking for young people aged 12–17. The game-based app gets young people to set challenges for each other and help their friends achieve the set challenges. Consequences for not achieving these goals include things like washing the family car.
“Young people are far more likely to seek help if they feel supported by their peers and are in an environment which makes help-seeking normal,” says CEO of Young & Well CRC, Associate Professor Jane Burns.
Mental health disorders haven risen dramatically for this age group in the last 16 years, with a recent report showing a jump from 2.9% to 5.0% in major depressive disorders among 12–17-year-olds.
Tim Sloane, a teacher at a secondary school in Sydney, says that during his six years as a student year advisor dealing with student welfare issues, he encountered cases of anxiety, depression, bullying and low self-esteem.
At his school there are different strategies in place to support student mental health and wellbeing, including mentoring programs.
Sloane says the use of online youth mental health tools would be an effective way to help young people take control of their own mental wellbeing, particularly with issues they may find difficult to discuss.
School authorities are legally required to report any cases involving child or drug abuse to police and government authorities. While this mandatory reporting is intended to protect students, Sloane says it may create a hurdle to getting help, and online technologies can be beneficial to starting a dialogue.
National surveys conducted by Young & Well CRC with Beyond Blue, and by Mission Australia found that young people turn to technologies for answers or solutions, ahead of general practitioners, psychologists, teachers or chaplains, adds Burns.
“We think about online tools as support systems for early intervention for preventing mental illness,” says Burns.
Youth mental health online
The Young & Well CRC has launched a number of online campaigns and apps, addressing issues, from cyberbullying to healthy habits and managing day-to-day stress.
Created by PhD candidate Sally Bradford in collaboration with the Young & Well CRC, myAssessment is an app aimed at helping young people assess their own mental health, to reduce obstacles in getting appropriate treatment. Trials of this app at headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation, showed the app increased the rate of disclosure of sensitive issues to clinicians by up to 10 times.
Together with online youth help service ReachOut, the Young & Well CRC also launched the app NextStep earlier last month, which aims to connect young people with the right mental health support for their situation.
“We see technologies as part of a holistic support system of care, and we think that professions have been far too slow in recognising that this is an incredibly important resource and tool available to them,” says Burns.
– Sue Min Liu