smartphoneMobile apps designed by doctors and young people to support mental health have been showcased in Birmingham at an event celebrating the digital revolution and youth mental health.

The apps are some of the first to use 'game-style' features to encourage young people to better engage with treatment for illnesses such as psychosis, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and building emotional resilience.

The Digital Health and Youth Mental Health event took place on July 30 and saw presentations by Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust (BSMHFT) chief executive John Short and youth mental health expert Max Birchwood, professor of youth mental health at the University of Warwick, and provided a showcase for a range of apps co-designed by clinicians and young people.

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Professor Birchwood has previously spoken about the "potentially enormous impact" of the use of technology in helping treat mental ill health in young people.

"Half of most young people up to the age of 25 will experience some form of mental health issue,” he said. “Getting help quickly and appropriately is crucial. We need to use youth-appropriate channels to give young people access to help, advice and interventions during a critical period when mental health problems develop."

The apps build on research that shows that early treatment is key to prevention and recovery. They are split into smartphone applications focused on supporting psychosis, ADHD and emotional resilience.

Invest in new models of early intervention
Dr Paul Patterson, public health lead for youth programmes at BSMHFT and co-designer of the Building Resilience app, said: “With 50% of all mental health problems emerging by the age of 15 and good evidence to suggest that early intervention helps to stem the progression of mental ill health, it is clear that such issues need to be addressed in young people as early as possible.

"We must invest in new models of early intervention and prevention in ways that young people best engage with. Creating apps in co-participation with young people is part of the future of youth mental health in the NHS.”

Among those featured is ‘Silver Linings’, a ‘gamified’ app that encourages young people to self-manage psychosis and engage with their treatment so as to increase the chances of recovery. This app, alongside the Focus ADHD and Building Resilience apps, have been created by clinicians from BSMHFT, app experts from web development firm Appadoodle, and young people themselves.

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“Silver Linings is about engaging young people using a medium they are familiar with, helping them in their recovery by better understanding psychosis,” said Dr Erin Turner, consultant psychiatrist from the early intervention service at BSMHFT.

"From a patient perspective the app will help them to understand and manage their illness, and empower them on their road to recovery. From a clinical perspective, it helps us know patients are involved in managing their own recovery, and can give us longitudinal information that helps us to tailor our treatment plans."

The event also shows how the NHS and industry can work together for the benefits of patients. The West Midlands Academic Health Science Network (WMAHSN) supported BSMHFT to find new ways of supporting mental health provision through the YouthSpace initiative, which helps young people address mental health issues.

Neil Mortimer, WMAHSN head of programmes, added: "The NHS often struggles to engage with young people when it comes to mental health and mental illness, so we are particularly impressed by the innovative approach that YouthSpace represents; in its use of digital tools to bring practical advice and support, and in the way young people are at the heart of YouthSpace's design and delivery. WMAHSN is proud to have supported their work over the past year."