MeeToo Connect: Because the first step in solving any problem is being able to identify it in the first place.
We’ve had a lot to worry about in the last year, but in recent months, the impact of COVID on the mental health of children and adolescents has become a growing cause for concern. The number of children with a probable mental disorder has increased to one in six, from one in eight in 2017 (MHCYP, 2020) and predictably, it is the most vulnerable children who have been worst affected. Prior to COVID, only 25 per cent of young people with diagnosable mental health issues got the care they needed on the NHS, yet the Centre for Mental Health predicts that another 500,000 previously healthy children under the age of 18 will require mental health care as a result of the pandemic.
When it comes to youth mental health, there is no doubt that COVID has created a crisis on top of a crisis, but what does it mean for you personally and professionally? As a headteacher or a DSL, you are already constantly on the lookout for the kids who look like they might be struggling. You and your staff know ‘safeguarding’. You have been trained to spot the signs of neglect, abuse or bullying, and you already know the ‘difficult’ families, and the school refusers because they take up a lot of your staff’s time and attention. But what about the other children? The ones with the issues that you can’t see? How do you spot a teenager who is battling her body, when only 6% of people with eating disorders are clinically underweight (Arcelus, Jon et al., 2011)? And how do you identify the student who is exercising to the point of punishment, or secretly swallowing small quantities of poisonous substances such as bleach, if there are no visible signs that they are self-harming? Mental health and wellbeing exist on a spectrum, and most issues only become apparent when they are so severe that the young person requires crisis support. By then, the damage is done; to the young person, to their family, to your school and indeed, to you.
Although the headlines about youth mental health have intensified in the last six months, none of this is new. We launched the MeeToo mental help app in response to the 2017 Mental Health of Children and Young People in England report which found that one in eight 5 to 19 year olds had at least one diagnosable mental disorder. Although early intervention reduces the risk of mental health issues escalating (Heim et al., 2012), the prevailing 1-2-1 counselling model could not cope with demand. In contrast, the MeeToo pre-moderated, digital peer support model provides a cost effective and scalable way to provide young people with immediate access to free, safe, anonymous support through a mobile phone.
The MeeToo app now supports 50,000 young people in the UK and is part of the NHS apps library. Posts are anonymous, but the app is safe for children as young as 11 because a team of ten paid moderators and four counsellors check, tag, and risk assess every post and reply before publication. When we started out, the sole purpose of moderation was to provide safeguarding. What we didn’t anticipate was how much a clean, categorised and accessible dataset could tell us about youth mental health and wellbeing. In order to share our learning, we developed MeeToo Connect, a data driven interoperable service that allows us to provide students with support, and schools with aggregate, anonymised, data insights from their own students. A companion app for teachers means we can track professional stress levels too. We can explore data by topic, by age, by gender, by time of year and we can compare what is happening at a National level to what is happening in your school.
Every new innovation needs early adopters, and Jeff Kayne, Deputy Head (Pastoral) and DSL of Forest School, London was one of the first people to recognise the potential of our MeeToo Connect service. Although all Forest school students have access to 1-2-1 Counselling if they need it, Jeff is a firm believer in 360˚ provision. He understands that if you want to encourage students to ask for help, you need to provide a range of support options which they can access in their own time, and on their own terms. The first Forest school data report roughly followed National patterns, but students scored higher than average on ‘coming out’ and ‘eating disorders’. Jeff is now taking preventative steps by raising awareness, publicising support options and educating all staff and students in order to decrease stigma and increase empathy.
The power of our dataset means that we are uniquely positioned to educate educators, but first, we have to persuade professionals who genuinely believe that they know everything about their staff and their students, that they might only be getting half the picture. We know that it is hard to justify expenditure on prevention because you can’t measure a crisis that has been averted, however research shows, time and again, that more than half of all crises are caused by inaction (Kádárová, 2008). Any school that has lost a student because of mental health issues knows that it is less painful and more cost effective, to prepare and prevent, than it is to repair and repent.
For more information about MeeToo and the MeeToo Connect service visit www.meetoo.help or contact firstname.lastname@example.org