Empowering young people with digital mental health tools


Beth Gibbons explains how her team created a digital tool that acts as a single source of truth for the mental health resources available to young people in the area, and how it’s given them more control in their care.

Earlier this year, NHS Gloucestershire’s children and young people’s mental health services launched its digital support finder. On Your Mind Glos aimed to get young people to the right support at the right time and improve their experience of accessing mental health support.

We know that young people can find asking for help with their mental health difficult. We also know that Covid-19 disruption caused waiting lists for mental health support to grow significantly and the barriers to support became difficult. Gloucestershire has a wide range of mental health services for children and young people but following the pandemic, there was a clear need to digitalise access to these services so that people are put in touch with the support they need as quickly and easily as possible.

And so, at the start of 2022, the Trust wanted to explore ways to use digital tools to increase awareness of the range of support available.

One collaborative team

With the support of tech specialists, Made Tech and Mace & Menter, NHS Gloucestershire created a team of designers and technologists along with our NHS staff to research and build this new tool. The work was commissioned rather than built in-house because of the specialist skills and capabilities needed around service design and agile service delivery.

The team worked with clinicians, frontline workers, children, young people and the local community to research user needs. We found that interaction with these specific groups was crucial to help us create a tool that truly worked for those that needed it. Mental health support practitioners, GPs, school nurses and mental health leads in schools were also included in the research to help to understand the specific problems that needed fixing.

These conversations highlighted specific challenges – knowing where and how to access support, the length of waiting times once referred and the lack of support whilst waiting. There were already many services (including outside the NHS) where individuals could get support but it became clear that people simply weren’t aware of them.

The discovery and first version of the tool was completed in 8 weeks. We looked for feedback from our users throughout the whole process, meaning that the final tool truly delivers on the needs of children and young people in Gloucestershire.

A single source for local mental health support information

An online support finder on the dedicated website guides users through a series of questions to understand how they’re feeling and what support they might need. They’re then signposted to the most relevant service for their needs and given useful information about mental health.

The results are available to young people, their parents and carers via the website and SMS. Providing SMS access was an important element of the service as it needed to be accessible and secure for any child or young person to use, regardless of their access to a computer. Just three months after the initial launch, a round of user research revealed that young people like using the service, with more than 2,500 visiting the site to date.

Today, the support finder is an easier solution for young people to understand, find and access over 100 mental health support services while giving them more choice and control of their care. For health practitioners it provides accurate advice and helps them signpost to services.

The Trust is delighted this tool helps children, young people and their families get the right support for them. This means that young people are not being passed around multiple services having to repeat their story. It also means that services are less likely to duplicate triage efforts for the same young person. With the introduction of self-referral young people are empowered to access support earlier, removing potential barriers.

It has since been launched in schools alongside a programme of mental health awareness and has reached around 10,000 young people. While it was developed for young people, it’s expected that professionals, parents and carers will use it too.

A wider impact across the health service

The support finder has been designed with security at its core, making sure user data is protected. The baseline architecture and codebase was developed under open standards principles, making it available to other NHS organisations with similar patient needs to use and adapt for free.

Thorough and rapid discovery, alpha and beta testing phases with one fully collaborative team meant we were able to make the best possible version of this technology. We designed the service based on feedback from users, helping us meet their needs. As a result thousands more young people can now access mental health support quickly.

Beth Gibbons is the Programme Manager for Children’s Mental Health & Maternity at NHS Gloucestershire.