Technology traps British teenagers in mental health crises: can it save them?


LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – For British teachers struggling with a mental health crisis in the classroom, managing suicide or running psychotic pupils in the hospital can become more and more a day of work.

The staff of three London schools recalled a phone call from almost lost students: the girl who swallowed the pills, another was ready to jump off a balcony and the countless teenagers who needed help to stem their self-inflicted bleeding .

"There were children who intentionally tried to get out in front of the machines in the morning and we had to pick them up," a 12-year-old school staff said.

"The child hears voices, says he doesn't want to live, can't concentrate on the lesson, he's huddled up crying in a ball. So at that point we say" Right, you have to go to (hospital) because you need help. "

In interviews with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, overly tense school staff said they had dealt with nine-year-old students who committed suicide on Google, worried about body image and receiving unwanted photos of penises.

Mental disorders will become one of the major global health challenges of the 21st century, with the number of patients rising to a potential global cost of $ 16 trillion by 2030, according to the Lancet medical journal.

The government has promised to do better as some children wait two years to ask for help as demand increases while services are reduced.

But with new initiatives – some at school, others digital – professionals said they are now treating more children, reaching more minorities and, above all, capturing them all before.


Self-harm has tripled by 20% among women between the ages of 16 and 24 in England – usually cutting or overdosing – between 2000 and 2014, according to the Lancet Psychiatry newspaper last month.

"The sooner you intervene, the better," said Lynne Green, a psychologist who has worked with children for 20 years.

"Once belief systems take hold, it becomes really difficult to change them. The longer they sit there, they become almost part of themselves, part of what they are and individuals feel it is impossible to change ".

Beginning in September, schools in 25 pioneering areas will have on-site national health service teams to help students with minor mental health problems and address those in urgent need.

The government also finances Kooth, an online service that provides information and advice to 70,000 children a year, while phone apps like BlueIce and TalkLife support young people in home privacy.

Childhood is changing rapidly.

This generation is the first to grow with smartphones and to juggle the greatest academic pressures with general concerns about climate change and daily anxiety for friends or to adapt.

The girls are particularly vulnerable, the data show.

Nearly one in four girls in England aged 17 to 19 has a disorder such as anxiety, depression or mania, they show official data, and most of them have attempted suicide or been self-injured.

"We are seeing increased levels of depression or mood problems, anxiety, stress," said Green, clinical director of XenZone, who runs the Kooth site.

"It was quite unusual to see the under 11 presenting with the most complex mental health problems. But I'm seeing a lot more now, particularly with regards to things like eating disorders and self-harm. "


The national health service offers free conversation therapies to over 1 million adults with depression and anxiety every year. Now it offers similar treatment to students at school rather than in clinics.

This reduces the stigma and increases the level of parental consent, said Becky Maharaj, a staff of the NHS working in London schools. He said that almost 80% of his patients come from ethnic minorities.

Maharaj helps perfectionist girls develop social skills by setting aside work and online chat to stay with real friends.

"There is a correlation between the level of social anxiety that we are seeing and the isolation," said Maharaj, as all forms of communication move increasingly online. "It's very unnatural.

"Considering that in real life, they can only make mistakes and say silly things … rather than this built reality."

Jane was so anxious to make mistakes at school that she studied incessantly, banging her head on the desk in tears and often refused to enter. Other days, his mother accompanied her to the gate to ask the staff to escort her, crying.

"I really didn't want to open up to it, but once you get started, you really can't stop," said the 13-year-old, who has since faced her worst fears and survived a detention, picked up basketball and now spend more time talking to her mother.

"You've lifted that weight off your shoulders … before you sleep a lot. I'm more energetic now. And I feel like I'm just a different person."

The goal of the NHS is to reach one school out of four by 2023, a goal that healthcare professionals say lacks ambition.


It is the technology that offers the most revolutionary promise.

TalkLife is the most popular app globally for young people who talk about mental health, with over one million users, most of whom have never sought help before, said Jennifer Russell, chief operating officer.

"The power of social connection and bringing people together when they are in trouble is the most protective factor that exists when someone is suicidal," he said.

"You can enter a platform like TalkLife and see immediately that you are not alone."

TalkLife – which has raised $ 1.8 million from investors looking for a social impact – uses artificial intelligence, developed with Harvard University, to predict whether users could attempt suicide or self-harm so that you can intervene.

Online anonymity also attracts teenagers who are afraid of becoming public – Kooth's consultants have slowly gained the trust of a girl ruled by a drug gang and have persuaded them to call the police.

NHS psychologist Paul Stallard has developed BlueIce, an app that helps young people manage the need for self-harm.

"Most of those who are self-defeating actually have no help from any service," he said.

In September, Stallard starts a process, partially funded by the NHS, to monitor the impact of BlueIce and see if it reduces the number of children who have crashed into accidents and emergency services (A&E).

"If it only prevents an episode of participation in A&E, it is saving huge amounts of money," he said. "It provides an economical way to reach a large number of people."

Reporting by Katy Migiro; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charity division of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights and LGBT +, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit

.. (t) England (t) Government / Politics (t) Technology (TRBC) (t) Anxiety Disorders (t) Women


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.