Help us better help others: Online, self-help, one-off help for young people’s mental health can boost their coping skills.
A guest blog post from Dr Maria Loades, Department of Psychology, University of Bath.
We know that many young people are struggling with their mental health. Post-pandemic, they continue to face both academic and social pressure. Added to this is the uncertain future in which our climate is changing, employment prospects in the future are questionable, and leaving home seems to have become harder than ever to afford. Yet it also seems to have become more difficult to get help with your mental health.
Traditionally, mental health help has been provided by highly trained professionals often over the course of months or even years of ongoing psychological treatment in a clinic. There is good evidence that this works; it helps at least some young people to get better, including by reducing the symptoms they are experiencing and improving their day-to-day functioning. The problem is that we cannot scale up this kind of help to ensure that every young person who needs it can get it quickly and when they first need it. So we see waiting lists, specific criteria to meet to get help, and limits on how much help you can get once you do access it. We also know that there are some groups of young people, like those from minority backgrounds, who don't access this kind of help even though they are more prone to experiencing mental health struggles. Stigma and not knowing what help is available or how to access it can get in the way of getting help.
So we have a huge gap between need and access to help. Young people who are struggling with their mental health are more likely to struggle with their functioning at school; this includes struggling with school attendance, struggling with academic attainment and achievement, and struggling socially. Struggling with your mental health as a young person also has long term consequences into adulthood including being more likely to have mental health struggles again.
There is a potential solution, and this involves rethinking how we provide mental health help. As well as offering courses of treatment with highly trained professionals for those who need them, we need to offer information and support that anyone can access, when they need it, without having to wait and without having to talk to anyone. One important way to do this is through one-off, bitesize interventions. These single session interventions are designed intentionally as standalone sources of support. Each one has a key message which is taken from active ingredients of treatments for mental health problems – that is, things we already know work for helping with mental health. Online, self-help single session interventions can be offered at huge scale, and can be made available to all young people, anonymously, on demand and without having to talk to anyone or meet any specific criteria to gain access.
In the USA, Dr Jessica Schleider and her Lab for Scalable Mental Health have developed a library of single session interventions for young people to help them to develop coping skills. The ones that have been best tested so far are Project Personality, which teaches young people that they can learn to think differently, and the A.B.C. Project, which teaches young people that doing more of what matters can help them to feel better. Both have been shown to reduce depression symptoms up to 3 months later, and the benefits of Project Personality continue to be evident even 9 months later. These single session interventions increase hope and young people’s sense of control over their lives. Another intervention is called Project Care, which teaches self-kindness. Each of these interventions takes less than 30 minutes to complete.
Right now, we are working on these single session interventions in the UK. There are two projects young people can take part in to help themselves and also help us to learn about how to help others:
(1) 14–18-year-olds can take part in our randomised control trial, led by Jessica Bridges, clinical psychologist in training. They will either get access to a single session intervention straight away, or after waiting for 1 month. The single session intervention teaches them about the brain and thoughts and feelings so that they can learn to think differently, and can learn to be kinder to themselves. No parental permission is needed. See https://ueapsych.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_8kRHs2RgDCMzn82
(2) 13-18 year olds can access Project Care UK, a self-kindness single session and answer a few questions before and after. They can access this anonymously, although under 16s need to get their parent/caregiver’s consent to take part. See https://tinyurl.com/ProjectCAREUK
Authors: Loades, Maria1 & Bridges, Jessica2
1 Department of Psychology, University of Bath
2 University of East Anglia
Author statement: Dr Loades is funded by the National Institute for Health Research (Doctoral Research Fellowship, 302929). The views expressed in this publication are those of the authors(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, The National Institute for Health Research or the Department of Health.