Designing Digital Tools for Young People – Getting it Right?

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Addressing youth mental health needs early in the lifespan may decrease the reoccurrence in later life. Data suggest that over fifty percent of mental health problems occur by age 14, and seventy-five percent by age 24. This data shows there is an important window for prevention.

Youth people are digital natives, they don’t know a time before the internet, and their devices are seamlessly integrated into their daily lives. Designing mental health interventions is the focus of a new paper in Nature Digital Medicine by Aislinn Bergen and colleagues from the University of Nottingham in the UK.

Digital provides a scalable channel to reach more youth with evidence-based interventions to address depression, anxiety, and ADHD. Real-world implementation of these tools doesn’t always consider critical factors that impact uptake.; which has been variable. The authors share the findings from a scoping review they conducted to inform areas to consider in developing future solutions.

The paper includes data from twenty-one papers aimed at preventing poor mental health. Most of the published studies focused on adolescents, so less is know about children under ten years of age. While cost factored as a barrier to successful implementation, the authors point to a lack of transparency regarding co-design with young people; it was unclear how much input they had in solutions designed to meet young peoples’ needs. Underserved youth were also under-represented in this research.

Additionally, being clear about the type and frequency of human support available in digital solutions is also an important design consideration. Will the user reach out via text or chat to a human at any time in their user journey, or only if their situation worsens?

The authors also point to low engagement and inadequate assessment of usability in the studies included in the scoping review. This lack of evaluation presents research opportunities to include metrics that matter to users and their partners like parents/caregivers and mental health professionals. How will we know a solution is helping if we don’t include appropriate metrics?

While we have seen tremendous advances in digital mental health solutions for adults, solutions for younger people need significant attention to ensure the evidence-base is translated in engaging, user-friendly ways. The prevalence of mental health issues in youth underscores the importance of designing with their specific needs in mind.

Thanks for reading – Trina

(Opinions are my own)


Bergin, A.D., Vallejos, E.P., Davies, E.B., et al. Preventive digital mental health interventions for children and young people: a review of the design and reporting of research. npj Digit. Med. 3, 133 (2020).

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