Trial launched to test app that promises ‘digital self-help’ for youngsters


Young people across Europe are being recruited to help scientists find out whether “digital self-help” really works. Researchers have designed an app that they hope will prevent anxiety, depression and improve wellbeing.

Scientists at the University of Exeter are leading a pan-European project to recruit young people aged between 16 and 22 to use the app.

It brings together the latest research on self-monitoring, self-help techniques and cognitive behavioural therapy so that young people can learn about their own emotions, develop resilience and build well-being.

The app’s data will also help researchers learn more about mood, emotion and mental health in young people.

Understanding what influences young people’s emotions and wellbeing is particularly relevant because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on young people.

The project is running until May 2021 and thousands of young people from eight countries will be offered free access to the app.

The MyMoodCoach app will ask users to log their mood and emotions each day. The app will then give them an overview of their own emotional patterns.

Professor Ed Watkins, of the University of Exeter, said: “This is the first large-scale trial of its kind.

“We’re aiming to use mobile technology to equip young people to understand and manage their own emotions, to improve their wellbeing and reduce the risk of mental health issues.

“Crucially, the advice and available tools will be tailored to what is most useful to them.

“Finding scalable ways to help young people is critical right now because we already know that Covid-19 and its disruption on daily life is having a huge impact on the well-being of young people – with recent studies finding the largest increase in self-reported distress in this age group.

“We are therefore keen to see if a digital self-help approach can help young people stay mentally well in these difficult times.”

Research has shown that helping young people to manage their emotions better, for example, by worrying less, or by adopting more helpful mindsets can reduce rates of depression and anxiety in high-risk groups.

Prof Watkins said that the majority of similar apps that are available had not been rigorously tested and there was little evidence to support their use.

“The project is the first to combine all of these approaches in a mobile app that is both evidenced-based and designed to look great and appeal to younger people,” he said.

“It has the potential to be a breakthrough moment in mental health research, supporting young people to live better lives in their relationships, work and social lives.”

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