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Sal McKeown from the Good Schools Guide's SEN team explores new mental health apps

Child and adolescent mental health services have suffered budget cuts of £85 million since 2010, meaning many young people are being left without support for mental health conditions. Parents and teachers are desperate to find quick answers when young people are in distress because professional help may be a long time coming. 

There has been a proliferation of apps for mental health to plug that gap. Apps appeal because they are available 24/7 and, as one parent said: ‘No one wants to think that their child is sad and lonely; it is a friend in their pocket for the times you can't be there.’

They can serve a purpose, but it is important to understand there is no regulation, no testing and little research about their efficacy. In theory, anyone can create an app and put it on the iTunes or Google store. The profits are low unless there are bulk sales and while many people download a free or low-cost app, they may never open it up so there are no reliable statistics on usage.

Apps can offer access to a range of services, for example a collaboration between YoungMinds, myhealthlondon, and Living Well CIC recently launched a free health app for young people aged between 12 and 25 in London.  WellHappy contains more than a thousand local support services for mental health, sexual health and substance misuse. Having this kind of information to hand can be a lifeline to young people who do not want to share concerns with family or friends. 

Bullying

In the world of education, three apps have a been the focus of attention.Tootoot is an app and online platform providing 24-hour support to young people who are victims of bullying and online abuse. It gives students an alternative way to disclose their concerns when they are unable to do so face-to-face. It received £4.4 million government funding and is being rolled out free to every school in the UK.  Hannah Plews, head of peer mentoring at Oldham Hulme Grammar School, said: ‘Tootoot is helping us uncover issues before they are left to fester and turn into bigger problems. For example, there is a lot of anxiety around Year 7 transitioning to senior school.’

Anxiety

Worrinots (http://www.worrinots.com/ ) is an app for primary age children who send a written or recorded message to one of four characters, Chomp, Shakey, Rip and Stomp who then forward the message onto a designated person at the school or, in the case of the home edition, to parents. There is also advice written by child psychologists which offers strategies for dealing with specific anxieties. One parent described it as: ‘A stroke of genius as we now know what upsets our daughter and can avoid these topics.’ Again, its value seems to lie in reducing reliance on face-to-face conversations which can be stressful and a barrier for children who find it hard to open up.

Mind Moose (https://www.mindmoose.co.uk ) is a web app.  Children go on a journey of discovery with Mind Moose and his animal friends. They explore more about themselves and different coping mechanisms so that in times of stress they know what helps them relax and what makes them feel happy. Nick Parsons, pastoral co-ordinator, Pennthorpe School said: ‘We have found Mind Moose to be incredibly beneficial to us in supporting our pupils' personal development. The online journey that the children follow is fun and interesting and helps us to track our pupils’ well-being.’

The app draws on different elements of psychology to help to develop character, resilience and self-confidence. One parent commented: ‘Mind Moose was a gentle but effective way to get our son to stand back and reflect on what he was getting out of the key relationships in his life. This gave him the insight and the courage to choose his friends more wisely. We think this was a pivotal part of helping him start to rebuild his self-esteem.’

These apps are popular and are becoming widely used in schools. However, they will not meet every child's needs. There is an increasing emphasis on developing children's resilience, moving them on from being a 'worrier' to being a 'warrior' and apps have a role to play here.

It is probably wise to focus apps which deal with specific issues or states of mind rather than generalised wellbeing apps. Here is a selection of the apps most often recommended by users and mental health practitioners: 

Anxiety and panic attacks

Name

Description

Cost

Platform

Anxiety United

A social network to share experiences and gain information and advice, with a free resource centre.

 Free

 Android

Beat Panic

Aims to help the user to calm and control breathing when experiencing panic. Guides the user through panic attacks and high anxiety.

 79p

 iOS

Hear and Now: Breathe for Stress & Anxiety Relief

Uses biometric feedback to measure the effect of stress on the body. Users follow guided deep breathing exercises and learn to control stress

Free

iOS

SAM –

Self-help for Anxiety Management

 

Self-help methods for tracking and controlling worry, anxiety and associated unpleasant physical sensations.  If they wish, users can share how they feel with others using the app.

Free

iOS

 

Android

Stress Tips

Advice in the form of audio clips, from people who have also experienced stress and anxiety.

69p

iOS

 

Android

Stop Panic & Anxiety

Focuses on Panic Disorder and controlling panic to relieve the fear of panic and panic attacks.

Free

Android

 

Depression and mood changes

Depression

CBT Self

Help Guide

Screening test for depression, relaxation audios, a diary, articles and CBT suggestions.

Free

Android

MindShift

Helps the user to identify and plan for situations that cause anxiety. Includes detailed information on perfectionism, worry, test and performance anxiety, social fears and panic.

Free

iOS

 

Android

MoodTools

Questionnaire, videos on guided meditations, soothing sounds and TED talks focusing on aspects of depression. A comprehensive section on thought records and how to make them. Section on developing a safety plan. 

Free

iOS

 

Android

Toxic Thinking

A clear strategy:  recognising the symptoms, knowing what action to take and knowing who to involve.

Free

iOS

 

Android

Mood Tracker

A website/app which lets users track moods and sleep patterns helping to manage depression, anxiety or bipolar disorder.

 

Free but in-app Products

£1.99 per item

 

Android

 

Dealing with a crisis

Wellmind

An NHS app. Advice and tips on how to improve mental health and wellbeing. Functions to help monitor moods, get crisis help and use relaxation audio tracks.

Free

iOS

 

Android

What's Up

Immediate ways to manage anxiety. Includes a catastrophe scale to put problems into perspective and forums to talk with others.  . There is a personal section to track how you feel by keeping a diary, a positive habits and negative record. 

Free

iOS

 

Android

Recovery Record

 

An app for those recovering from eating disorders including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, obsessive eating disorder, binge eating disorder and compulsive eating disorder.

 

Free

iOS

 

Android

Calm harm

For young people who are self-harming, four strategies:

 

Distract - combat the urge by learning self-control;

Comfort - care rather than harm;

Express - get feelings out in a different way;

Release - safe alternatives to self-injury.

 

Free

iOS

 

Android

Stay Alive App

Quick access to UK national crisis support helplines for those who are having thoughts of suicide or those who are concerned about someone else. Includes a  mini-safety plan that can be filled out by a person considering suicide

A LifeBox to which the user can upload photos from their phone reminding them of their reasons to stay alive

Strategies for staying safe from suicide

How to help a person thinking about suicide

Suicide myth-busting

Research-based reasons for living

 

 

iOS

 

Android

 

Apps will never replace professional support for young people with poor mental health but they can reach some people who are not likely to engage with over-stretched mental health services. For example, young men have a higher suicide risk; they are often reluctant to seek help and may go down the road of drugs and alcohol, a form of self-medication which masks their problems.   

Perhaps most importantly, apps offer privacy and give the individual a measure of control. One app review on the iTunes app store said: ‘This weekend I found the online support list and the keeping safe for now section helpful, it made me feel less lonely. Unlike so many mental health apps yours is not patronising and doesn't claim to 'fix' anyone. No app will ever be able to fix me but yours kept me company during a very long, dark weekend.’

by

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