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Using digital to help young peoples' mental health

By Eleanor Bradley, MD, Registry Solutions & Public Benefit, Nominet

The NHS has labelled the issue of addressing mental health among young people as ‘in crisis’, as the support available fails to keep pace with the alarming increase in demand for it.

According to the Nuffield Trust, the number of 4-24 year olds reporting a longstanding mental health issue has increased six fold in the last 20 years.

What else has changed in the last 20 years? In less than a lifetime, digital devices and the internet have infiltrated every corner of our lives. Young people today are growing up in a digital world; their lives have been changed by it, for better or worse.

While some have tried to combine these two facts as cause and effect – and there is some evidence of internet addiction and its harmful consequences – what is more productive is to accept that technology can’t be removed from our lives but can be used as a solution rather than merely a (potential) problem. After all, tech is neither good nor bad – we must use it as the great enabler it can be.

Digital is the medium by which most young people conduct their lives, and is an ideal way to integrate additional support with existing offline support as 99% of 12-25 year olds are spending more than an hour a day on their smartphones and online. They are familiar with digital tools and know their way around them, plus some of the characteristics of the online world – anonymity and privacy – make it easier to talk about sensitive, potentially embarrassing subjects like their own mental health.

It is well accepted that the NHS has limited resources and is struggling to meet the needs of the young when it comes to mental health. It is a space charities can step into, using digital to refine their offering and better reach the young people they seek to help. Of course, this presents various challenges that must be overcome, not least having the right expertise to create digital solutions and having the money behind them to support this work.

Digital mental health services can also serve the NHS by allowing tools to be created at scale that are easily accessible and get support to those in need quicker than the average waiting time for care. It can also create opportunities for self-care and integrated care, creating complementary packages that combine appointments with a practitioner with a digital service that provides reassurance in moments of isolation or vulnerability.

At Nominet, we get excited about finding opportunities for which technology can be harnessed for good – it’s something that guides our public benefit work and helps us meet our target of impacting the lives of one million young people a year. We have recently entered a partnership with the Samaritans, helping to create the technology tools that will ensure they can connect with people online – notably the many young people who indicated the internet as a place they would most like initial support.

This topic – the symbiosis between mental health, young people and digital services – is a topic we have delved into more deeply as we seek to identify the areas of potential, the need, but also the associated challenges. To that end, we have commissioned a new report, Charities, Young People and Digital Mental Health Services, through which we have started to identify some areas in which charities, who naturally try to fill gaps left by the NHS, could further refine their work in order to access young people and support young people in a way that will be even more effective.

The findings have been interesting and insightful in how we can refine the existing processes of care for young people. For example, our report found an interest in creating a mental health passport for young people to improve the continuity of the care they receive, and a need for better signposting so that young people know where to find the support they want. We also need to ensure that services are offered at scale, which again is the ideal challenge for digital to meet – a multitude of apps can be created and accessed far and wide. We also recognise that charities face challenges such as funding and a lack of technical expertise, but solutions can be found with the proper understanding of what resources can help and where. For example, the Samaritans needed digital tools but needed funding, support and technical expertise to create them, so Nominet was able to help fill that gap.

It is not enough to simply wring our hands at the worrying rise in mental health issues among young people. We must understand the challenges and identify opportunities to overcome them, using technology to support them in the best way we can. Let’s meet an age-old problem with new tools and technologies to finally start to turn the dial.

Eleanor Bradley mid 1About the author

Eleanor Bradley is MD of Registry Services & Public Benefit at Nominet, the technology company known for running the .UK internet infrastructure. Eleanor has over 20 years’ experience in the internet industry and in her current role leads the teams responsible for commercial activity related to Nominet’s registry business as well as the company’s public benefit initiatives.

DigitalHealth.London Accelerator

Calling the next generation of digital innovators! DigitalHealth.London Accelerator is now open

DigitalHealth.London Accelerator applications open 2021

DigitalHealth.London are once again looking for the next generation of digital innovators to help transform health and care!

Digital products and services have provided vital innovation, support and capacity to the NHS during the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to do so as the healthcare system moves forward into the subsequent recovery phase of the COVID-19 response.

DigitalHealth.London has opened applications to their flagship Accelerator programme for the next generation of digital health companies to transform health and care.

Applications open on today (2 August 2021) for six weeks. The deadline for companies to apply is midnight Sunday 12 September 2021. For companies offered a place on the programme, support will begin in mid-January 2021.

Now in its sixth consecutive year, the NHS delivered programme, funded in part by the European Regional Development Fund, has supported some of the biggest and most effective digital innovations now being used by the NHS in London. Companies including LIVI, Oxehealth, Patchwork Health, Echo, Sweatcoin, and Health Navigator have all been through the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme.

Many of the digital products and services who have provided vital innovation, support and capacity to the NHS during the response to COVID-19 have come through the Accelerator. From enabling remote GP appointments, to transforming NHS temporary staffing and patient facing self-management apps, the Accelerator has supported some of the best digital innovations now being widely used. The need for innovations to solve the problems which face the NHS as it continues to be under pressure and as it recovers from the pandemic, remains vital.

To date the Accelerator has supported 122 innovative digital health companies, with 411 additional contracts signed by those companies during Accelerator support. For every £1 spent on the programme it is estimated over £14 is saved for the NHS*.

DigitalHealth.London is passionate about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the long-term success of innovation and transformation within the NHS. To date 15 per cent of the companies supported have been founded by women, 22 per cent have been owned by innovators who identify as Black, Asian or minority ethnic and two per cent by a person with a disability*. DigitalHeath.London continues to work to ensure the Accelerator programme is diverse and encourages innovators who identify as being from a minority group to apply to the programme.

DigitalHealth.London Accelerator Jenny Thomas quote

Speaking about the programme, Jenny Thomas, Programme Director, DigitalHealth.London Accelerator, said, “The last year and a half in the NHS has seen profound challenges but also incredible progress.”

“NHS Staff and patients have been introduced to new ways of doing things through digital health, and technology has enabled many key services to continue during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“I am extremely proud of the companies and NHS organisations we have worked with and the role they have played during the pandemic and the vital roles I know they will continue to play as we start to look at supporting the NHS to recover.”

“I am very excited to announce the opening of applications to be part of the next cohort of innovators on the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator programme – innovators who we will support in being part of this next, pivotal stage for our healthcare system.”

DigitalHealth.London’s Accelerator aims to speed up the adoption of technology in London’s NHS, relieving high pressure on services and empowering patients to manage their health. The programme is for digital health companies with a product or service that has high potential to meet the challenges facing the NHS and social care today, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and as detailed in the NHS Long Term Plan. It works with up to 20 SMEs over a 12-month period, giving bespoke support and advice, a programme of expert-led workshops and events and brokering meaningful connections between innovators and NHS organisations with specific challenges. The companies that are successful in getting onto the Accelerator programme are chosen through a rigorous and highly competitive selection process, involving expert NHS and industry panel assessments, interviews and due diligence checks.

Top Tips for Applying to the Accelerator

Join the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator 101 Webinar

Join a discussion with the Programme Director, an NHS Navigator and some of the SMEs who have been supported by the programme on the DigitalHealth.London Accelerator 101 Webinar

4 August 12:30pm


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