Growing up is hard enough, but imagine having to grapple with the anxieties and tribulations of adolescence in a vast, borderless digital sphere that is always ‘on’ – a space with known potential for harm and abuse.
In the last 20 years the number of 4-24 year-olds reporting a mental health problem has increased six fold and understandably, as digital natives, these young people are looking to the internet and technology when they need help. The NHS reported in 2018 that tens of thousands seek help for their mental health problems online rather than wait up to 18 months for support from a mental health professional. While it’s positive that young people are being proactive in sourcing help, can we be confident that the right support services are available online? And that someone in crisis would be able to navigate them?
There are tens of thousands of apps and websites offering mental health support, but a limited number are clinically-supported, run by mental health charities or operated by experts with decades of experience in supporting young people. We know this because we have spoken to many of the leading mental health charities ourselves, hearing how they struggle with their digital offerings despite being conscious of a growing demand online.
Like so many issues in the third sector, it often comes down to cost. Innovation Labs estimates that it costs from £5,000 to £25,000 to prototype and produce a minimal viable product like a web or mobile app. Delivery can then cost upwards of £100,000 – and this is before you even consider scaling and sustaining services that require important design features and curation for people in vulnerable circumstances. Additionally, charities can lack the digital expertise to create online services, however savvy they may be with social media or running a website. There are also the charities that are run completely by volunteers, with little hope of ever affording to digitally transform their services.
Having identified the need and the challenges, I am thrilled to announce the launch of the Nominet #RESET Mental Health Programme, a fund that will support seven partners to deliver online programmes that are working to meet the mental health needs of young people today. Our #RESET programme includes some incredible charities and organisations, such as Barnardo’s, stem4, YoungMinds, Anna Freud, The Mix, Nightline and Chasing The Stigma.
All of these organisations inspired us with their plans and their commitment to supporting young people, whether it be to transform their existing digital apps or services, integrate more features to existing products, or create new tools that will offer better services to those they seek to help. Barnardos’ differs slightly, planning to use their funding to create digital templates that will help other charities to deliver digital mental health services.
Based on current estimates from these charities, the #RESET fund should help more than 600,000 young people between now and the end of 2020, and we hope up to three million over the next three years. For Nominet’s own ambitions, to impact the lives of one million young people each year through our public benefit work, this is a hugely significant programme.
While the scale of the figures is promising, we mustn’t forget that every single one of those 600,000 is a young person living through daily challenges that are impacting their life. For each of them, getting help with their mental health needs is vital. It is hugely rewarding to know Nominet is playing a small part in making that happen in a format and medium that suits their needs and – crucially – is integrated with signposting to wider support such as face-to-face services.
This is where technology shows its power for good; while the internet and technology may sometimes be part of the problems that young people are facing, they can also be part of the response.
Find out more about the Nominet #RESET Mental Health Programme here. Keep an eye on the blog for updates on the charities’ work in the coming months.