Researchers review digital technologies to support adolescents with depression and anxiety
17 June 2022
A review of digital mental health technologies has been undertaken by a collaborative team featuring colleagues from the Wolfson Centre for Young People’s Mental Health.
Researchers from across the Division of Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences at Cardiff University have published a clinical review of the currently available technologies to support young people with depression and anxiety.
The work, led by Dr Rhys Bevan-Jones, examined digital mental health technologies for adolescents, including a variety of website-based programmes and apps. These used a range of formats, such as interactive activities, games, messaging, and chatbots.
Some of the technologies the team reviewed are supported by contact with a healthcare provider or other professional. This included services that are delivered by a practitioner digitally in ‘real time’ (e.g. therapy provided via videoconferencing) while other resources and interventions are ‘pure self-help’ and therefore involve no human support to an individual user.
Dr Bevan-Jones said: “Depression and anxiety are common in young people but often the most affected will not get any formal help. Digital resources are a potential way to extend the reach and increase adolescents’ access to therapies, at a relatively low cost. This clinical review gives an overview of digital technologies to support the prevention and management of depression and anxiety in adolescence.
“We worked alongside colleagues from the NHS, Wolfson Centre, MRC Cardiff, National Centre for Mental Health, the Universities of Auckland, Glasgow and Bath, and the Open University.
“We identified 33 different digital technologies, most targeting depression symptoms alone or together with anxiety symptoms. Many were designed to be used in different contexts, including clinical and community settings, whereas others are designed to be integrated into specific settings, such as schools.
“The list included MoodHwb, a programme to support young people with their mood and wellbeing. I co-developed this with young people, their parents/carers and practitioners, here in Wales. It is delivered in Welsh and English and has illustrations, animations, and interactive and personalised components. It is based on psychoeducation, CBT, positive psychology and interpersonal theory. It aims to promote self-help, help-seeking where appropriate and social support.”
Digital technologies can also help with other mental health-related outcomes, including knowledge, stigma and help-seeking behaviour. Other potential benefits of digital technologies include the flexibility of use and increased personal choice.
Dr Bevan-Jones concluded: “Digital technologies have great potential in improving adolescent mental health in an accessible way for young people, sitting alongside more traditional mental health services. However, further research and guidance are required in this field regarding all phases of the research cycle."
‘Digital technologies to support adolescents with depression and anxiety: review’, is available to view online in BJPsych Advances. This follows on from a review on the co-design of digital mental health technologies with children and young people, which was also led by Dr Bevan-Jones, and has been recognised as a ‘top cited article’ in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.