Digital Solutions to Adolescent Mental Illness
The World Health Organization estimates that as much as 50 percent of people in high-income nations, and as much as 85 percent of people in developing nations, do not receive adequate mental health care. Closing the gap between those who need care for mental illnesses during adolescence and those who receive that care has been an ongoing public health challenge for several decades.

Part of the challenge lies in the nature of mental health care. In the case of natural disasters or disease outbreaks, public health efforts may focus on immediate interventions, allocating emergency resources toward the affected communities for a specified amount of time until things return to normal. With mental health care, treatment may involve a variety of resources like medication, one-on-one consultations, group therapy and other services that are harder to sustain for the duration of an individual’s life.

In recent years, apps have emerged as a versatile public health tool. Although a person’s socioeconomic status can profoundly affect other aspects of health care and who receive them, most people, regardless of income have cell phones.

The 2015 Mobility Report by Ericsson estimates that there are 2.6 billion smartphone subscriptions worldwide. Researchers expect that number to reach 6 billion by 2020, with regions like Africa, Asia Pacific and the Middle East accounting for 80 percent of all new subscriptions. Delivering mental health care through smartphone technology could help improve ease of access for those in developing nations.

Healthwatch Wokingham is an independent group of healthcare professionals working to deliver mental health care to people in South East England through smartphone technology. The program, Appyness, specifically targets teenagers by catering to unique adolescent mental illness needs. Users can learn about different mental illnesses that commonly affect adolescents and their symptoms, access contact information for various mental health care providers, and compare different kinds of treatment.

In some ways, Appyness provides many of the same services as a traditional mental health care provider. With simple language and easy-to-use interfacing, Appyness guides teens in classifying their symptoms, logging their moods and triggers and directs them to additional resources.

Healthwatch aims to reach teenagers through the technology platforms they already commonly use. The goal is to help them form positive self-care habits early on and prevent adolescent mental illness.

Jessica Levitan

Photo: Flickr