It was Mental Health Awareness Week 2016 in the UK last week. What became apparent for us at Appa Scotland was the issue of the “ticking time bomb” of children and young adults suffering from high levels of stress and anxiety that may lead to greater mental health issues in adulthood unless action is taken now. How do we improve the resilience of these young adults so they can fulfil their potential as adults? Our ambition is to take “one small step towards a resilient generation” through the development of a digital tool that will enable young people to build their own resilience.

Statistics can be misleading but let’s take a couple that are staggering. Just pause for a moment and take in these figures:

  • 19% of the UK population suffers from depression and anxiety;
  • 12% of the US population has an anxiety disorder.

That equates to over 12 million individuals in the UK and over 40 million in the USA. These are not people just “worried” but suffer from genuine anxiety due to social, cultural and economic factors e.g. financial crisis of 2008, austerity, overwork, unemployment, global terrorism, loneliness. Bear in mind that even 30 years ago “anxiety” as a clinical condition did not exist in the USA.

Children and Young Adults

A range of issues impact on the development of children and teenagers e.g. poverty, bullying (cyber, sexist, racist), parental relationship breakdown, bereavement, exam stress, pressure to conform, body image issues, self-inflicted social networking overload, to the extremes of domestic violence, grooming and child sex abuse.

Increasing numbers of children are suffering from mental health issues with more cases of self-harm and suicidal thoughts. Anxiety and stress levels have been on the rise, expectation levels are higher and they suffer from a diminished sense of wellbeing. If these go undetected and are not tackled, such a wave of issues could lead to more serious mental health problems as these teenagers approach adulthood. The stigma attached to poor mental health follows teenagers into higher education where Counselling services witness ever increasing numbers of students needing help. The need to work toward preventing a mental health crisis has never been more necessary.

In Scotland, a range of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, has been on the rise amongst young people. Schools are on the frontline in tackling mental health issues with their pupils and there is a sharper focus on the young adult/children population in recent years e.g. Children’s Mental Health Conference, Mental Health & Wellbeing in School Conference. The good news is that there are more young people coming forward to seek help. The bad news is that help is not always readily available with the 18-week waiting time targets to access Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAHMS) not always being met. This gives a difficult wait for the young person and their family. It also adds additional pressure to school staff supporting young people during this time.

The Government Response

There is a broad recognition that mental health is a major issue with the UK Government committing £1 billion in mental health services from 2016 to 2021. In Scotland, the Scottish Government announced in January 2016 an additional £54m for improving access to mental health services including access for child and adolescent needs. The Scottish Government has also set out the need for every child of secondary age to have his or her resilience and wellbeing assessed with the responsibility for doing so falling on the shoulders of teachers. The issue for teachers and education authorities is how best to undertake the task and this is where Appa Scotland has an innovative digital solution designed to tap into the minds of young adults while giving teachers a Report on the child’s resilience against the key “SHANARRI” factors: Safe, Healthy, Achieving, Nurtured, Active, Respected, Responsible, Included.

BeingMe – a Child Centric Approach to the Assessment of Children’s Resilience in a Digital Age

Children’s Resilience has been the subject of a decade of research by one of the world’s leading authorities, Dr. Michael Ungar who is based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. He has produced a validated set of questions for young adults/teenagers to answer and these are part of the digital solution which BeingMe Scotland has produced in the form of a mobile app called “BeingMe”.

As parents and teachers know, a child or young adult will not always confide in them when they are troubled. So, to prevent young people falling into a vacuum where they cannot access help or even talk about their issues, BeingMe Scotland has come up with a novel and creative solution, “BeingMe”. Instead of having to sit down with a parent or teacher, the young person can engage with an avatar through the mobile app. Our avatar called “Alex” will engage the young person in a conversation rather than what may be considered an interrogation by an adult! Importantly, the app also produces a baseline SHANARRI Report of the child’s current state i.e. a snapshot. The accompanying Action Plan which the teacher would produce can then be tracked by further assessment to review the progress made by the child in each of the SHANARRI factors.

BeingMe is now downloadable in both iPhone and Android versions in the UK, Canada and Australia, and trials are currently being carried out in Scotland with the outcomes available in June. Our hope is that the assessment of children’s resilience now and forthcoming time will indeed lead to “one small step towards a resilient generation” and prevent the mental health “time bomb” from exploding.