The University of Sydney is partnering with the yourtown (Kids Helpline) to develop a custom-built social media network for youth mental health, funded by a $1 million grant from the BUPA Health Foundation.
Developed by researchers from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Cyberpsychology Research Group, the grant will help bring to life the first digital mental health practice model, to provide greater reach and ease of access to mental health support among young people.
The research team behind the project is drawing on 6 years of end-user engagement and co-design to establish a digital support service for 13-25 year olds which addresses the barriers young Australians face in accessing qualified mental health support.
In partnership with yourtown's Kids Helpline, which offers 24/7 phone and online counselling and support services, the 'My Circle' platform will provide an extra layer of support for youth, with online peer support and expert group counselling services made available by Kids Helpline counsellors every hour of the day.
Chief investigator Dr Andrew Campbell said, "We must start to rethink how to deliver mental health services safely using the digital resources that young people overwhelmingly want to use.
“Social networks are the second most accessed function of the digital age (search functions being the first) and youth engage with them more than any other age group.
"Knowing that more than 70% of young people who need mental health support aren’t getting it, due to barriers such as stigma, cost and privacy concerns, My Circle draws on young people’s preference for social networking sites to provide them with an easy pathway to anonymous, clinically guided, peer-to-peer and counsellor support.
"Unlike existing social media platforms, it’s designed for safety, privacy and wellbeing, and is integrated with Kids Helpline for 24/7 one-on-one support."
Working with the Cyberpsychology Research Group on the co-design of the platform, yourtown CEO, Ms Tracy Adam said, "Developing and testing the early versions of the ‘My Circle’ platform has been an invaluable learning experience.
"The platform has proven to be flexible and effective in supporting young people experiencing anxiety and other mental health concerns around COVID-19. Knowing we have a digital platform to extend quality mental health support and provide greater access for young people, is essential to enhancing our model of service.
"With youth demanding more online avenues for help, we aim to leverage ‘My Circle’ and combine it with all other service offerings to ensure that there are as many diverse avenues of effective support possible to children and young people.”