THE BLOG

Why Digital Services Are the Future of Mental Health Support

20/08/2014 15:30 BST | Updated 20/10/2014 10:59 BST

Today, Norman Lamb MP announced the creation of a taskforce to improve children and young people's mental health services. Amongst other things, it will consider how we can make it easier for young people to get information and support without the fear of stigma which is all too often a barrier to people seeking the care they need.

I fully support this admirable goal. Poor mental health among young people remains one of the last great medical taboos in the UK today. Despite the epic scale of the issue - three children in every classroom suffering from a diagnosable mental health problem, with thousands more teetering on the brink - we have a culture where young people suffer in silence, wither on waiting lists or simply receive no help at all.

This is a chance to re-imagine services for the benefit of hundreds of thousands, and must not be a continuation of status quo. I believe that to successfully tackle this ever-growing problem, the use of 'digital' must be absolutely central to service delivery.

When I talk about digital services, I'm not just referring to a website signposting traditional support services or a social media feed offering advice (although both have their merits), but to life-changing interactions, such as access to counselling, taken online and delivered directly to beneficiaries - whenever they need them and wherever they are.

Through developing the charity MindFull, I have witnessed firsthand the power of a digital support service that can be accessed by all, including the hardest to reach groups, irrespective of geographic, social or economic barriers.

Our site offers young people immediate, flexible, consistent support and services, 365 days a year. And it's an approach that's been welcomed by our young users, with 99% of them choosing to access counselling in the evenings and at weekends, outside of traditional office hours.

One young volunteer who had struggled with OCD and anxiety highlighted that young people are reluctant to ask for help as they think they won't be taken seriously or that their problem isn't bad enough: "It can be extremely isolating, and sometimes even when there is support all around you, it can be so hard to take that first step to getting the help you need."

However, the beauty of an online solution is that it democratises access. Young people are more likely to start the conversation about their mental health online as they inhabit the digital world 'en masse'. And perhaps even more powerfully, it enables us to tailor and personalise our services to the end user, all the while benchmarking, sharing best practice, and tracking successes.

Earlier this year, Nick Clegg highlighted the fact that "all too often, attitudes to mental health are outdated; stuck in the dark ages; full of stigma and stereotypes." This taskforce has the opportunity to change that.

Through the intelligent use of digital, I'm confident we can contribute to the uplift of the wellbeing of a generation, safeguard and save the lives of some of our most vulnerable young people and create a 21st Century model for mental health prevention and intervention services.