The Wysa app will guide young people who meet the criteria for help through a series of interactive self-care exercises
"Self-help needs to be interactive, engaging and even enjoyable, to encourage teenagers to build their mental resilience and help prevent the onset or deterioration of any diagnosed mental illness." Nana Owusu, clinical lead and director of children and young people’s services, Hammersmith, Fulham, Ealing and Hounslow Mind
Young people in West London aged between 13 and 18 are to receive the mental health app Wysa as a preventative tool.
The app is being offered by the Hammersmith, Fulham, Ealing and Hounslow (HFEH) local Mind association (local Minds are independent charities, but part of a network connected to the national Mind charity). It will be made available to young people attending the charity’s state school network whose needs are assessed to be suitable for virtual support.
Wysa is an app that uses an artificial intelligence chatbot to provide mental health support.
All 13-18 year olds in the HFEH Mind school network will be invited to complete a request form on the HFEH Mind website, and HFEH Mind will seek parental consent where that is required. HFEH Mind will carry out a standard assessment with each applicant to make sure the virtual tool is appropriate for their mental health needs. The questionnaires will be recorded on iaptus, an electronic patient record system used by psychological therapy teams.
Applicants with mild support needs will receive an SMS from the patient record system with a link to access for free Premium Wysa for a year, which is worth £69.99. Those identified as having mild-to-moderate symptoms will be given access to Wysa as well as being offered the standard pathways for HFEH Mind talking therapy support.
Users will be taken by an AI chatbot through a series of interactive self-care exercises. Wysa’s NHS-approved self-care library offers evidence-based intervention exercises for stress, grief, insomnia, coping with pain, anger and self-esteem and more.
The app will run Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) questionnaires to monitor and report progress regularly. These questionnaires will be integrated with the iaptus patient records, with alerts for high-risk triggers.
Nana Owusu, clinical lead and director of children and young people’s services, HFEH Mind said the organisation wanted to provide young people with an app that was discreet and felt familiar: “Teens are willing to embrace mobile apps and texting is part of everyday life, so we are meeting them on their level with this kind of interactive digital support. Self-help needs to be interactive, engaging and even enjoyable, to encourage teenagers to build their mental resilience and help prevent the onset or deterioration of any diagnosed mental illness. The appeal of this app also means we can tap into teenagers’ preferences for communicating. We hope it will mean we can discover more teenagers who need the higher level of support that is available to them. With so many apps out there, parents can be reassured that their children are safe and supported through a tool that is clinically validated.”
In recent months, we’ve seen a growing body of evidence demonstrating how mental health problems among young people are on the rise. One in six of those aged between 6 and 16 are experiencing a probable mental health condition. It is not easy for these young people to access the support they need, given that the NHS is already stretched. The introduction of a digital tool such as Wysa is a relatively cheap intervention that can, one study suggests, reduce symptoms of depression. We need to wait for the results of research being carried out by Imperial College to assess how effective the app is. But in principle, the HEFH project feels like a promising initiative that could both help young people before they reach crisis point. Such approaches may help to reduce some of the burden on NHS mental health services.