Impact of technology on the mental health of young people event
On Thursday 28 November, representatives from schools and colleges across Peterborough, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk attended a briefing session at North Cambridge Academy. The aim was to offer an insight into how technology can impact the mental health of young people and consider solutions for both staff and students. Speakers included:
- Dr Beth Mosley, Clinical Psychologist on the Impact of Technology on Youth Mental Health
- Ryan Armes, Mental Health Manager YMCA Trinity Group
- Simon Jay & Elissa Makris – Thrive Therapeutic Software
The impact of technology on youth mental health
Beth began by explaining the ‘Thurston Model’ which she helped to develop with Thurston Community College, near Bury St Edmunds, in 2017. She reviewed the school’s mental health education and worked with staff to help them identify and best support the students who were struggling. Since her introduction into Thurston, over 80% of students who had identified difficulties with anxiety or depression had seen their symptoms improve.
Beth also discussed what can help to improve and protect the mental health of pupils. Attributes include:
- having a safe and secure home
- regular exercise
- access to a balanced diet
- stable relationships
- being challenged/stimulated
- a sense of belonging
- a strong and healthy sleep pattern
- not feeling discriminated or bullied
In terms of improving the sleep routines, Beth advised that parents can remove mobile phones from their child’s bedroom, educate them about the benefits of sleep, offer healthier alternatives and ultimately lead by example. Also, research has shown that high levels of screen time usage leads to an increase in depressive symptoms and a decrease in life satisfaction and in self-esteem amongst young people.
The importance of not only supporting the students but also the staff wellbeing was discussed too. Staff members can only offer the best support if they aren’t overwhelmed by stress and struggling with mental health themselves. One member of the audience said that she has witnessed how her colleagues are no longer talking to each other in the breakroom at lunchtime but instead are fixed to their phones as well. Beth added that teachers are the most likely to have time off work due to stress and so support needs to be aimed at staff members as well to create a better and positive environment in schools.
In her conclusion, Beth declared that in order to make a positive impact on the mental health of young people, parents and educators need to ‘come alongside them’ with their online activities and gain a better understanding of technology.
The needs in schools
Ryan offered an interactive session and asked the audience to discuss and answer a list of questions in pairs before putting what they talked about on a whiteboard. The questions focused on what issues schools currently face in the provision of mental health, how can technology help young people with their mental health and how might technology support staff in schools and businesses.
Some responded by saying they are currently facing the following issues in their attempt to improve mental health:
- a lack of funding
- not enough awareness of mental health issues and how to support pupils
- a lack of specialists
- there are long waiting lists for counselling and support
However, there was an overall sense of agreement that technology can help young people as apps can be accessed 24/7 and can offer instant support. An audience member said that it isn’t enough to just direct students to an app though but for staff to be able to explain and go through the steps with their pupils too. Ryan reinforced this point by stating that schools can’t simply buy the technology and then forget about it, it requires everyone to continuously engage and encourage each other to be active users.
Possible solutions for students and staff in schools and wider organisations
Both Simon and Elissa spoke about how the Thrive App can have a positive impact on schools but it isn’t a form of treatment. Elissa explained that CBT (Cognitive behavioral therapy) is at the heart of the app. Therefore it has been designed to offer support and detect early forms of mild mental health conditions before they become severe.
Thrive have primarily focused on supporting educational settings such as primary and secondary schools, colleges and universities, but they have also worked with large corporate businesses. As the importance and awareness of mental health increases, the need for their support has rapidly grown.
Although there are now hundreds of different mental health apps available, only a handful are NHS approved, which includes Thrive. Also, unlike many of these other applications, Thrive can offer a variety of services in one place:
- calm breathing
- self suggestion
- applied relaxation
- data insights
- deep muscle relaxation
By offering a range of services, there is more chance that the individual needs of members within a school/work setting will be catered for.