Friday, April 23News For London

Can a mobile app really support young people’s mental health?

TalkLife has been named one of the Nominet 100, a guide that “celebrates the global pioneers who are using digital technology to change millions of lives for the better”.

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Source: Keiran Dudden

In 2015 mental health patients have faced journeys of up to 370 miles for emergency beds where local services have struggled to meet demand according to research by Community Care.

This strain on emergency mental health services has led professionals to look to technology in the community to reduce the number of admissions.

Jamie Druitt, an app developer, had a tough time following the breakdown of a long-term relationship. He wanted to talk about it but didn’t want to burden his friends and family. Jamie wanted to share his experience but didn’t want to be that person ‘whining’ on Facebook but he did want someone to listen.

Fully recovered, Jamie created TalkLife to help others going through similar experiences. It acts as a “peer-to-peer support network” that offers a place where users can talk about difficult experiences that they may not be able to share with friends or family.

TalkLife is designed as place where 16–24 year-olds can talk about their issues, from breakups and money worries to thoughts about self-harm and suicide. The service enables users who are going through similar experiences respond with words of encouragement and support. People can create profiles or post anonymously.

The app currently hosts over 8,000 users and receives over 14,000 posts everyday. Celebrity mental health advocate Stephen Fry has also tweeted his approval:

 

The Royal College of Psychiatrists say peer support has a protective influence against mental health symptoms, particularly where peers have had similar life experiences.

Cure or disease?

Not all health professionals are so positive about the role of technology.  Amber Taylor, a Psychology Assistant who has worked in NHS mental health services for the last six years, raises a number of issues with the concept when speaking to Westminster World:

“As a Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner I would see a lot of young people. We are a generation of growing opportunities and technology so when our mobiles, computers, netbooks and kindles are always switched on it can become harder to switch off.”

She added : “This may explain the growing prevalence of anxiety and low mood which we are now seeing.”

Amber also raises concerns about TalkLife’s security: “It is difficult to know who’s who online. It is also established that eating disorders in particular have a culture of online encouragement”

The app claims to tackle trolls and unhelpful content in three main ways:

  • Community Flagging – Everyone who uses the app can flag posts as offensive or negative to be moderated by administrators
  • ‘The Anti Bullying Crew’ – The most highly engaged users are invited to become part of the Anti-Bullying Crew. This “Crew” have the ability to remove negative posts.
  • Trigger Warnings system – When each account is set up, users can choose topics that they find distressing. The App then attempts to filter posts with related content.

 

Emergency Support

A ‘Professional Help button’ is displayed in the main menu. This button directs users to emergency helplines in their area.

The app also has a ‘Safety Net’ that it claims can identify posts indicating that a user is in crisis. The app then messages them, encouraging them to seek help from friends.

With funding cuts in health and social care announced in the Novembers spending review many mental health professionals are under growing pressure. But the role of apps like TalkLife can play in providing relief for is yet to be established.