Lifting lid on young people’s mental health

Researchers at The University of Manchester have worked with Kooth, an online mental health service for young people, to produce a report on digital mental health support for children and young people.

Launched in 2004, Kooth provides counselling, advice, and support to young people (aged 11-18) struggling with their mental health. It is run by XenZone, an innovator in digital mental health.

The report is a characterisation of the person-centred, holistic work carried out by Kooth on a daily basis. In defining the “Theory of Change” for Kooth , researchers have identified the characteristics and mechanisms of the service that lead to better mental health and wellbeing.

Some of the key findings from the report include;

  • The physical absence of a therapist allows children and young people to express themselves, focusing exclusively on their situation and their feelings without fear of judgement or dismissal.
  • The anonymity of the service means the young person feels it is safe to open up and can get to the key issues they wish to address more quickly.
  • The site’s accessibility means that young people can use it when they need to, going back for more support as required. The young person therefore, is in control of the pace of support, which shifts the power dynamic away from the therapist.

This Theory of Change will be used to inform a new set of outcome measures XenZone is developing and intends to validate. The data collected will be used to make recommendations to the NHS on best practice for evidencing the impact of digital mental health support services in England.

Dr Terry Hanley led the research and co-authored the report. He said; “There is a growing need to define what mental health and wellbeing support looks like today so that we have an accurate understanding of the potential of new approaches and new modes of delivery.

“It also follows that we need to evolve our understanding of outcome measures so that we avoid using old systems to measure newer, broader services. The ambition of this project, therefore, was to articulate and share the Theory of Change for the Kooth platform; future work will address the outcomes required to evidence this work.”

Kooth is supported by Sir Norman Lamb. Speaking about the report, Sir Norman said; “It outlines the different routes they take and defines the most helpful mechanisms for change, which may lead to better outcomes and, ultimately, happier lives.”

He added; “It isn’t a study you’ll find anywhere else. The deep and rich data that XenZone has accumulated over the last 15 years is unique.”

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