Can eHealth & Technology Help Adolescents live Happier, Healthier Lives?

Can eHealth and Technology Help Adolescents live Happier Healthier Lives

Takeaway: Technology can offer adolescents new ways to get the physical and mental health support they need. And it can seamlessly blend into their daily routine in a way more traditional healthcare can’t. But it’s not a magic solution to all teen mental health challenges. So, parents and eHealth developers will need to play their parts in harnessing technology’s positives and cancelling out its negatives.

It’s easy to focus on the negatives of technology and ignore its positives.

Technology can certainly impact adolescents egatively. It encourages them to escape into an alternate, online reality. It steadily lowers their attention span. And it opens them up to things like cyber-bullying. But we forget that it does so much good, too. For example, the internet helps adolescents learn, connect, and grow in ways they could never have just a decade ago. And in that sense, it nurtures better mental health. Because, as we’ll see, technology can help children realise their potential, cope with daily stress and be a part of a larger school and wider community.

‘eHealth’ is an example of a fast-growing tech development that can transform adolescents lives.

eHealth (i.e., electronic health) is the term used to describe technology that helps improve our physical and mental health. This includes websites that teach us about diseases, mobile apps that connect us to healthcare professionals, digital devices that remotely monitor health markers like blood pressure, and so on. eHealth has so much potential that the World Health Organisation recommends it as a vital complement to mainstream healthcare. And there’s clear evidence that eHealth works when helping adolescents with issues like obesity, healthy eating, oral health, getting vaccinated, and mental health challenges like depression and anxiety.

In particular, mobile apps and online services are the perfect way to reach adolescents in need.

With tech today, even the smallest design-and-engineering teams can create a powerful mobile app or online service. And there are so many of these eHealth apps and services out there. For example, there are self-management apps that remind you to take medications, practice mindfulness, get enough sleep, etc. Then there are apps to help change behaviour – e.g., teaching teens strategies to develop a growth mindset. There are also apps and services to connect adolescents with counsellors, therapists, and supportive communities. And finally, there are apps to track health data like how much physical activity a child gets, or how social she’s being (e.g., talking on the phone, messaging friends, etc.) In future, these apps could help parents monitor their child’s mood and state of mind – perhaps predicting things like depression and other behaviours before they occur.

A great case study for a fast-growing eHealth service is the ‘Togetherall’ online community.

Togetherall is an online community where people can improve their mental health and wellbeing by taking assessments, completing courses, journalling, and supporting other members. It started in England under the name ‘Big White Wall’ in 2007 and has been endorsed by the NHS and hundreds of thousands of people across the UK and the world. It uses an advanced algorithm to tailor information to each user’s needs and allows them to share their stories with others going through similar challenges. Best of all, it’s moderated by clinical professionals. In Togetherall’s words: ‘Someone, somewhere, will know how you’re feeling right now. And they’d love to hear your story. No judgment, no stigma.’

These apps and services can outdo face-to-face healthcare in some ways, such as being much more convenient and affordable.

eHealth apps and services are so convenient: you can use them from anywhere, day or night, at your own pace, and you can choose to stay anonymous if you’d like. All this for free or at an affordable price. Even from the healthcare industry’s perspective, eHealth is ideal. It’s so much easier (and efficient) to reach out to adolescents through their phones than to get them to come to real-world offices for help.

The point is that eHealth isn’t just a ‘worthwhile’ tool to explore. It’s an absolutely essential route into adolescents lives.

Adolescents spend large parts of their day online, so eHealth is an essential new route to helping them – especially if it’s supporting more traditional types of healthcare. For example, formal therapy sessions are invaluable and irreplaceable, but a struggling teen gets only an hour or two a week with a therapist. However, that same teen might spend 10 hours a week playing computer games. So, imagine if we could tap into those hours and reinforce the growth that takes place through therapy? Well, we can with ‘creative gaming.’ It’s an extension of the concepts behind regular play therapy – just with a bit more technology. For instance, there’s the award-winning computer game Gris which can help adolescents deal with loss and depression. In the game, you play out the story of a young girl called Gris, who’s going through a tough time after a tragic life event. And as the tale unfolds, you’ll see her gradually heal and grow from her experiences. Games like these seamlessly blend into your teen’s existing routines, making learning and personal growth almost effortless.

eHealth isn’t a magic solution to adolescents mental health challenges. And it does need to be monitored by parents. But we can’t deny its potential.

The few eHealth highlights we’ve explored give us a sense of its potential. It won’t replace existing physical and mental health services, but it can be a great add-on feature. However, there are some fundamental issues we’ll need to sort out. For example, how do we make sure games and web forums are well moderated and safe – for younger adolescents in particular? How do we prevent apps and services from misusing the data they collect? And how do we make sure online communities stay nurturing and non-judgmental? These problems are solvable, though. As parents, we can monitor and control our children’s internet activities – for example, making sure they access only age-appropriate websites, apps, games, and social media. And game/app developers can continually refine their algorithms to spread only positive content. It’s too early to know for sure the future of eHealth. But it’s not too early to be hopeful.

We’ve worked to develop a strong online presence at The Ed Psych Practice. So, if your child needs help and support, feel free to reach out to us for guidance.

The Ed Psych Practice offers face-to-face and online assessments, consultation, advice, and problem-solving strategies for parents, nurseries, schools, and universities in London. We have psychologists, paediatricians, and therapists who can help assess your child and offer guidance and support. To consult with us or set up an appointment:

Want to see how else you can help your child? You might enjoy some of our other posts.

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