Technology can help improve school children’s mental health – if we want it to

Just a couple of weeks ago the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, said child mental health services are the NHS’s biggest failing and studies have shown the problem is getting much worse. Indeed, the chair of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, Professor Dame Sue Bailey, has recently warned that the UK should be prepared for a “tsunami” of adults with mental health problems unless immediate remedial action is taken to help children.

But it’s not just child mental health disorders that are rising. The use of technology is too, especially amongst children. It’s entwined in their everyday lives, and is only set to become more prevalent, so rather than getting children to disengage with it (like some cyberphobia-suffering adults try to do) we should be encouraging them to embrace it – for the right reasons.

We must not discount the value of technology for children as a means of gaining information rather than misusing it. For example, since 2012, ChildLine has seen a steady increase of children contacting them online rather than by phone, with 59% of counselling last year taking place online and a 28% increase in website hits.

Clearly then, typing concerns is what children are more comfortable with, usually much more so than speaking to an adult face-to-face. This, alongside the fact the problem is growing exponentially as outlined in the recent Guardian report which found that a quarter of a million children are currently receiving mental health care in England, means we cannot afford to let outdated fears of using technology stand in the way of adopting the best methods for helping children overcome their anxieties, worries and fears.

This is why, at Oakley Mobile, we developed the child-first Worrinots app; designed and developed with the sole aim of helping school children share and cope with their worries and anxiety in the academic environment. Based on tested methods that are regularly used by child psychologists, the app has been created to reduce the chance of worries becoming deep-rooted and festering, whilst avoiding any potential stigma around such issues, by acting as an aid to help children open up about their concerns. We talk very freely and openly about being happy, equally we should encourage children to talk this freely about being sad or anxious, so that we start to normalise all our emotions, not just our ‘happy’ state.

Through the use of the technology that they trust, solutions like The Worrinots provide children with tools to not only express their worries, but more importantly manage their well-being from a young age and tackle anxiety early on. Confidence to speak out about negative emotions and issues should be part of everyday life. When these barriers are removed you also remove stigma and embarrassment and as I stated earlier you normalise these types of emotions ensuring a better outcome for society as a whole.

If used correctly, technology can transform children’s mental health. We believe digital tools and the considered implementation of technology will help children, the digital natives, deal with the fears and anxieties increasingly affecting their lives and future prospects.

Technology will continue to play a big role in our children’s futures. Let’s embrace its strengths in their early years to ensure their future wellbeing too.

This is a guest article by Barry Richardson, Creative Director, The Worrinots

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