Empowering young people with digital mental health tools

By Jo Makosinski | Published: 18-Jan-2023

NHS Gloucestershire rolls out mental health support finder, increasing access to services for vulnerable young people

Earlier this year, NHS Gloucestershire’s children and young people’s mental health services launched its digital support finder. 

On Your Mind Glos aimed to get young people to the right support at the right time and improve their experience of accessing mental health support. 

Beth Gibbons, programme manager for children’s mental health and maternity at NHS Gloucestershire explains how her team created a digital tool that acts as a single source of truth for the mental health resources available to young people in the area, and how it has given them more control in their care.

“Gloucestershire has a wide range of mental health services for children and young people,” she said.

“But we knew we needed to digitalise access to these services so people are put in touch with the support they need as quickly and easily as possible.

“We also knew that young people can find asking for help with their mental health difficult.

“Add to this the fact that COVID-19 caused waiting lists for mental health support to grow significantly, and the barriers to support became significant.”

At the start of 2022 NHS Gloucestershire wanted to explore ways to use digital tools to increase awareness of the range of support available

One collaborative team 

With the support of tech specialists, Made Tech and Mace & Menter, it created a team of designers and technologists, along with NHS staff, to research and build this new tool.

The work was commissioned rather than built in house because of the specialist skills and capabilities needed around service design and agile service delivery.

The team worked with clinicians, frontline workers, children, young people, and the local community to research user needs and found that interaction with these specific groups was crucial to helping create a tool that truly worked for those that needed it.

Mental health support practitioners, GPs, school nurses, and mental health leads in schools were also included in the research to help understand the specific problems that needed fixing. 

Gibbons said: “These conversations highlighted specific challenges – knowing where, and how, to access support, the length of waiting times once referred, and the lack of support while waiting.

“There were already many services, including outside the NHS, where individuals could get support, but we now knew people weren’t aware of them.”

The discovery and first version of the tool was completed in eight weeks.

“We looked for feedback from our users throughout the whole process, meaning that the final tool truly delivers on the needs of children and young people in Gloucestershire,” said Gibbons.

A single source of information

An online support finder on the dedicated website guides users through a series of questions to understand how they are feeling and what support they might need. They are then signposted to the most-relevant service for their needs and given useful information about mental health.

The results are available to young people, their parents, and carers via the website and SMS.

“Providing SMS access was an important element of the service as it needed to be accessible and secure for any child or young person to use, regardless of their access to a computer,” said Gibbons.

And, just three months after the initial launch, a round of user research revealed that young people like using the service, with more than 2,500 visiting the site.

“Today, the support finder is an easier solution for young people to understand, find, and access over 100 mental health support services while giving them more choice and control of their care,” said Gibbons.

“For health practitioners, it provides accurate advice and helps them signpost to services.

“We’re delighted this tool helps children, young people, and their families get the right support for them.

“This means that young people are not being passed around multiple services having to repeat their story. It also means that services are less likely to duplicate triage efforts for the same young person.

“And, with the introduction of self referral young people are empowered to access support earlier, removing potential barriers.”

The systems has since been launched in schools alongside a programme of mental health awareness and has reached around 10,000 young people.

A wider impact across the health service

“The support finder has been designed with security at its core, making sure user data is protected,” said Gibbons.

“The baseline architecture and codebase was developed under open standards principles, making it available to other NHS organisations with similar patient needs to use and adapt for free.

“Thorough and rapid discovery, alpha, and beta testing phases with one fully-collaborative team meant we were able to make the best-possible version of this technology.

“We designed the service based on feedback from users, helping us meet their needs.

“As a result, thousands more young people can now access mental health support quickly."

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