A short introduction and review of the early stage of a mental well-being programme that aims to encourage young people to talk about mental health. By Kathryn Mullen.

Bracknell Forest Council has been working with local young people to increase awareness of mental health issues, reduce stigma and provide early, accessible support when needed. In collaboration with the local NHS – the work is co-funded by Bracknell & Ascot Clinical Commissioning Group – and neighbouring councils, the focus of the programme is on innovative and creative solutions designed from the perspective of young people themselves, rather than professionals.

Interactive sessions with young people

The starting point was interactive sessions on mental well-being that were delivered across schools and community groups by the local Public Health team. These aimed to highlight key mental health issues, bust unhelpful myths, address stigma and bring down any barriers young people may experience against seeking help if they need it. The sessions had a positive effect, with an evaluation showing statistically significant increases in awareness and confidence around mental health issues.

Co-production of resources

The school sessions also enabled the co-production of short videos with young people, based on what they think is important in relation to mental health. They were designed to capture single ideas that are salient to young people and suitable for sharing across social media.  

Work was also undertaken with primary school children aged 8 to 11, who were encouraged to write about emotional well-being based on a ‘superheroes’ theme, because ‘even superheroes have bad days’. Stories were developed into animations, which were voiced and directed by the children themselves. Each story was then shared with all primary schools and across social media. All of these co-produced resources can be used as a starting point by teachers when getting messages across about mental health.

An analysis of this work on social media revealed excellent reach throughout February, with more than 235,000 impressions on Twitter and 5,600 profile visits.

The final element of the resources project was creating a parents and carers guide, encouraging them to talk to their children about mental health. The guide was created in collaboration with NHS colleagues and the Bracknell Forest Educational Psychology team and includes myth busters, talking tips and games and activities to aid discussion about mental health. These were shared widely with GPs, children’s centres, schools, clinical commissioning groups and child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS).

Online mental health support and counselling

Ensuring that children and young people are able to voice their worries at an early stage in order to increase emotional resilience was also the basis for the commissioning of online counselling provider Kooth.com for children and young people aged 11 to 19 (up to 25 for children who are looked after). This service, provided by Xenzone Ltd, offers online resources, moderated chatrooms and multi-session counselling from trained and accredited professionals. It is linked up to schools, local NHS CAMHS providers and Children’s Social Care and has been extremely well received by young people. 

Feedback from young people using Kooth.com has shown the positive effects that the service has had. One user said: “Thank you so much for all you’ve done for me. Some things I wouldn’t have been able to do without your support and I can’t thank you enough for that. You’ve been amazing to me.” 

Another commented: “I’ve been really well lately and all the sessions with you have everything to do with that. Thank you for helping me throughout everything because I am so much calmer now.”

The impact on services

Aside from the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the work from young people, recent service data suggests that it may be reducing the demand on secondary CAMHS services. A 300% increase in uptake of the online service in quarter 3 2015 coincided with the NHS CAMHS providers reporting a significant decrease in referrals to their services; relieving the pressure on CAMHS waiting lists and timely service delivery. 

While the programme remains in its early stages, the data suggests that it is already having a positive impact. The programme is now embedded into the core business of Bracknell Forest Health and Wellbeing Strategy and the CCG Commissioning Plan, and, with further development, aims to provide sustainable benefits for the emotional well-being of children and young people in the area.

About the author

Kathryn Mullen is public health programme manager at Bracknell Forest Council