Long lockdowns, school closures and restrictions on everyday life have put young people at a greater risk of mental health issues.
And while it will be years before we can truly assess the psychological impact of COVID-19, digital health researchers at the University of Southern Queensland are developing a new digital mental health platform for children and adolescents to help ease the growing demand on mental health care providers.
Designed and developed with the help of hundreds of young people, parents and mental health professionals, the platform, called Momentum, aims to help children and adolescents manage common mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse and other related difficulties.
Professor Sonja March leads the project, which was made possible with $5 million in funding from the Medical Research Future Fund.
Set to be launched early next year, Momentum is Australia’s most comprehensive digital platform for child and adolescent mental health that integrates detection, assessment and tailored interventions.
Professor March said the online platform would be able to provide time and cost-effective psychological treatment and interventions to all young people regardless of their circumstances.
“Our aim was to develop a new digital model of care for all Australian children and adolescents that was based on evidence-based practice, and that they can trust will help them,” Professor March said.
“Young people can also feel confident knowing this platform was built by leading researchers in the digital health field and mental health professionals who have worked with young people.
“Using a short check in survey, the platform will create a tailored program that addresses the individual’s mental health problems.
“The program will include a range of sessions that will help young people learn what is happening for them and strategies for managing their difficulties.”
Professor March said the platform would be simple to use and easy to access for young people.
“Our key goal was to build something young people would want to use,” she said.
“The advantage of this platform is the huge amount of involvement and input from children and adolescents in the design and development process.
“By spending time working with them from the early stages of the project, they become invested in the platform.”
Momentum extends from the work Professor March has done with the popular BRAVE Self-Help program, which has more than 61,300 registered users and helps young people learn the skills they need to cope with anxiety.
The self-directed therapy program saw an increase of up to 200 per cent of new users during COVID-19 lockdown periods, many of whom were children with higher than usual levels of anxiety.
Professor March said digital mental health platforms have become an effective tool for delivering assessment and intervention to people experiencing mental health disorders.
“The impact of the pandemic on children’s mental health was significant, but it was just the tip of the iceberg,” she said.
“Mental health services were already stretched before COVID-19 and many clinicians are now struggling to cope with the spike in demand.
“There is also a concern the impact of this pandemic will chip away at the mental health of young people for years to come.
“We need more innovative solutions to address this growing crisis.
“Digital mental health platforms are particularly appealing for young people because they have been exposed to digital technologies from a young age and spend much of their time using the internet to socially network and find information.”
Momentum is being built in partnership with young people, parents and mental health professionals through Kids Helpline, West Moreton Health, Children’s Health Queensland, Education Queensland, Stride and Darling Downs and West Moreton Primary Health Network.
University of Southern Queensland’s Professor Sonja March.