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Young adults needed to take part in digital technology study

Press release issued: 29 September 2020

Digital technology can present both opportunities and harms to young people and their mental health. A new research project is asking for young adults to take part in a UK-wide online survey to identify the importance of adolescents' digital technology use to consultations about mental health.

The study, led by the University of Bristol and supported by the Elizabeth Blackwell Institute, will work with key stakeholders, including health and social care practitioners and young people themselves, to explore questions around how use of digital technology could benefit young people's mental health consultations and improve the delivery of care and manage risk.

Technology can be used to deliver therapeutic interventions or to interface with services to provide additional means of building relationships with and supporting service users. Equally, heavy technology use amongst young people has been linked to poor mental health outcomes and may pose specific risks for those already experiencing difficulties such as self-harm, suicidal ideation or eating disorders. There has been some suggestion that such risks could be considered during mental health consultations.

Dr Lucy Biddle, Senior Lecturer in Medical Sociology in the Bristol Medical School: Population Health Sciences, who is leading the project, said: "We know digital technology, like social media and apps can be good and bad for mental health. While some young people may experience problems such as cyberbullying or find unhelpful content online, others like to talk to peers or use apps to help them cope. It has also been suggested that doctors, counsellors and other professionals who support young people with their mental health might be able to look after them better if they talked to the young person about their digital technology use.

"In this survey, we would like to find out the different ways that young people use digital technology to support their mental health, and their opinions about discussing online experiences and sharing app data with health professionals (e.g. doctors)."

The survey can be found here:  

Dr Biddle continued: "Our study will pave the way for a substantial programme of research focused on the relevance of adolescents' digital technology use to consultations about mental health. We will explore both opportunities and harms posed by digital technology use and if addressing these in consultations can help clinicians to manage patient risk.

"Specifically, we will pose questions around whether young people's technology use can be drawn upon to enrich face-to-face consultations, used as a tool to make these work better and more efficiently; and whether clinicians have a role to play in safeguarding against harmful use."      

The objectives of the project are:

  1. Undertake consultation with all key stakeholders to determine how young people's digital technology use is currently drawn upon, or responded to, during clinical encounters focused on mental health in primary and secondary health care in England; and the perceived relevance of this to addressing patient risk.
  2. Collect pilot data for two innovative projects exploring opportunities to: i) use information from young people's digital engagements to enrich consultations; and ii) identify risk and safeguard against harmful technology use.
  3. Build emerging collaborative relationships with digital mental health providers, academic primary health care, methodologists, and international experts in adolescent mental health, so that these may develop our future programme of work.
  4. Use innovative practice to engage with young people, sustain their interest, and enable them to work with a collaborative research community.
  5. Establish and sustain a 'stakeholder hub' that will prioritise and co-create next steps for research and help improve implementation and dissemination.

The survey is completely anonymous.  Participation in the study is voluntary and participants will have the right to withdraw at any point.

To recognise the time spent taking part, participants will have the opportunity to enter a prize draw to win a £50 voucher.

The project is jointly funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of their 'Adolescence, Mental Health and the Developing Mind' programme of research.

Further information

About Elizabeth Blackwell Institute
Nurturing research. Improving health.

The Elizabeth Blackwell Institute drives innovation in research to improve health for all. It nurtures interdisciplinary research to address the complex health challenges facing us today.

The institute focuses on:

  • Supporting the next generation of health researchers
  • Connecting people to develop interdisciplinary research
  • Including everyone in research so the research can benefit all.
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