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Digital mental health treatment for teenagers rolled out

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Teenagers starting their GCSE and A level studies are being treated for depression through a new digital mental health therapy programme for young people.

The programme reflects the increasing education pressures teenagers are facing during the COVID-19 crisis.

Nationally, an estimated 1.3 million children and young people experience mental health problems.

In a survey carried out in June 2020 by mental health charity, Young Minds, 80% of respondents said the pandemic had made their mental health worse and 87% said they had felt lonely or isolated during the lockdown period.

As the pandemic takes its toll on young people’s mental health and limits access to mental health services, digital solutions are coming to the foreground for the treatment of common conditions such as anxiety and depression.

SilverCloud Health is one of the leaders in this growing field, providing its services for adult mental health to 75% of the NHS.

It has recently extended its digital cognitive behavioural therapy programmes for young people to incorporate an online module for treating depression.

The new module is being introduced to teenagers aged 14 and upwards by Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS), including Dorset CAMHS and will soon be widely available to health trusts and schools across the UK.

Chloe Ponsford, operational service manager CAMHS Gateway Bournemouth, Poole & Christchurch said: “SilverCloud enables us to provide young people with an online programme they can access at their own pace, at a time which suits them.

“In these current times, it gives young people the flexibility they need, enabling them to improve their mental health at home, in an engaging and informative way.”

The new module includes interactive activities and online tools to encourage and motivate young people to engage in activities that provide a sense of achievement and support recovery. It also includes personal stories relevant and identifiable to young people.

The programme was developed in partnership with the NHS and Northpoint Wellbeing, which provides NHS services across Yorkshire.

The programme is currently being delivered across fourteen school clusters and a number of NHS mental health services across the region.

The module is being trialled in Scotland and is set to be rolled out across Staffordshire and Devon.

The company also launched a national programme in Wales, announced in early September by health minister for Wales, Vaughan Gething alongside a significant amount of funding for mental health and digital mental health.

Speaking to Health Tech World, Dr Lloyd Humphreys, head of Europe at SilverCloud Health, said: “The programme is growing very quickly as the need for it is developing. And unfortunately, given the circumstances that we’re living in, it is going to continue to develop.

“Dorset CAMHS were a very good partner when it came to their adult services, so they were a natural partner for the programme for young people.

“They had seen really good recovery rates and usage amongst adults, so they wanted to expand a proven evidence-based solution across its digital estate.”

Many digital solutions for mental health amongst children and young people are classed as a tech-enabled service, meaning they utilise technology but rely on a therapist being at the other end of that technology.

In comparison, the young people programme is a technology solution with a ‘one-to-many’ approach, so individuals can access support at any time. SilverCloud claims this makes the platform six times more efficient than any other form of digital therapy.

Humphrey says: “The programme is not limited by time; it’s not limited by availability; people can access it at any time and in any place that is suitable for them. The local NHS service can still maintain that connection and that support, but this is done asynchronously.”

As part of an initial research trial, 200 young people used the SilverCloud programme to help with anxie

y. Initial results have shown that 90% of young people found the digital therapy relevant and 84% said that it was helpful to them.

The full research paper is due to be released towards the end of 2020.

Humphreys says: “Our shining star is outcomes and evidence. SilverCloud is one of the most researched and studied digital programmes globally.

“We have over 35 research programmes and we have been independently investigated and supported by NICE; the only solution to have done so.

“Many companies take proven techniques from other parts of psychology; they adapt these, and they say it’s evidence-based, which isn’t quite true. What they actually mean is that they are evidence informed.

“We are evidence-based in the sense that we have researched and generated evidence ourselves for all of our programmes.”

One teenager who recently had online support for anxiety through Northpoint Wellbeing said: “At the end of the programme I feel much more confident at challenging the obsessions and compulsions and although I’m not completely better, feel like I’m getting myself back on track, so thanks for that.”

Humphreys hopes digital mental health support will become as accessible as picking up A mobile phone.

He says: “if they can download Snapchat at the push of a button, they should be able to access evidence based, clinically effective help immediately, without delay. “We shouldn’t have to wait for a young person to go to their GP to get a referral and only then get access to a digital service. Or likewise, have to put their hand up at school to be able to see a counsellor.

“They should be able to access these services as quickly and as easily as possible.

“We’re working to break down those barriers as much as we possibly can.”SilverCloud are now looking for ways to develop services for younger children and expand the breadth of its programmes for the treatment of a wider range of conditions such as trauma and more complex mental health issues, including psychosis, bipolar and personality disorder.”

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