Digital Information Platforms as a Mental Health Service

Roz Davies

9th May 2021

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“Bereavement, isolation, loss of income and fear are triggering mental health conditions or exacerbating existing ones. Many people may be facing increased levels of alcohol and drug use, insomnia, and anxiety. Meanwhile, COVID-19 itself can lead to neurological and mental complications, such as delirium, agitation, and stroke. People with pre-existing mental, neurological or substance use disorders are also more vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2 infection  ̶  they may stand a higher risk of severe outcomes and even death.” WHO 

Even before Covid-19, mental health was a complex space on many levels. It can be daunting and frustrating if you or someone you are supporting has mental health difficulties and you want to find out about mental health illness and the services and support available quickly and easily. 

During lockdown when someone I know was struggling with their mental health I went looking for a mental health information platform in their area and I could only find the mental health trust website which did cover the statutory services but not the wider offer. It was complicated and I ended up following many links and different websites spending considerable time trying to navigate it all. Not a great user experience and potentially off-putting for some. 

Since 2016, in partnership with our voluntary sector partners Volition, we have been managing MindWell, a digital information platform for people in Leeds. It has been carefully curated, co-designed and developed over time and has had over 1 million visits, thanks to being well embedded into the local health and care system.  If you search online for Leeds and mental health, MindWell is on the front page.   

Digital information platforms like MindWell are an essential part of local mental health services. Having a safe and trusted place to go to find out about mental health illness, services, activities and self-management tools can make a big difference to people living with mental health illness and the people who support them. It needs to cover not just formal services but also link in with a wide range of activities focused on specific interests, communities and needs and be presented in an accessible and engaging way. The best way to achieve this is through co-design with local people and organisations. At the same time it is important that people are aware of the platform and that it is used as an integral part of mental health services. 

Covid-19 and Mental Health

Back in March 2020 as we headed into lockdown, our partners Volition acted fast and put together a Covid-19 Hub. In the first month alone, the page had nearly 5,000 visits. With information ranging from taking care of your mental well-being during lockdown to finding out the latest on how services and activities were adapting, it proved invaluable as a tool to get out the most up to date information to people who needed it. 

Public Health England and others have been keeping a watchful eye on the impact of Covid-19 on mental health and the Mental Health Foundation has been carrying out an on-going study during the pandemic. Their research has shown that there has been an emotional and mental health impact but it is a fluctuating situation and has disproportionately affected some more than others. 

 In the last wave of the research (February 2021) there was some good news around emotional and mental wellbeing, but not for everyone. People with physical long term conditions and those with pre-existing mental health conditions feel less hopeful than others and levels of loneliness were higher in young people, people who are unemployed, single parents and people with a pre-existing mental health condition. Strikingly and sadly, levels of people with thoughts and feelings of suicide has risen from 8% in April 2020 to 13% in February 2021.

We have noticed a large increase in users and a change in use of MindWell in the last year. In comparison to Q4 in 2020, Q4 of 2021 has seen a 74% increase in users.  The top 5 searched terms were: Anxiety, Sleep, Stress, Bereavement and Counselling. The top 5 viewed pages in the last quarter were the home page, ‘I’m looking for myself’, ‘I feeling low or experiencing depression’, ‘I need help now’ (crisis) and ‘how do you think of depression?’

Partnership

In Leeds the CCG and the Better Care Fund commissioners, Leeds and York Partnership Foundation NHS Trust and the wider health and care system have continued to support the evolution of MindWell Leeds. This year, we have been working with HMA to refresh the platform, co-design and improve some of the pages, the accessibility and user journey. One of the secrets of success of the platform is this cross-sector  and city-wide partnership approach working alongside a dedicated delivery team. 

Together with Volition we are starting to plan the next phase of MindWell and included in our plans will be more activity around working with others to ensure that everyone has access to the information they need about mental health services.We recognise there is a strong link between inequality, digital exclusion and mental health illness and that Covid-19 has exacerbated this and we are going to be working with NHSE on overcoming this issue through co-designing inclusive digital transformation in the next year. Volition have already developed a paper summary and work with people delivering services, and others who are trusted touchpoints, to help people who are not online access the information they need.  

Show and Tell

We are going to be sharing more about how we co-designed MindWell, the impact it has had, giving a whistlestop tour on Thursday 13 May at 3pm-4pm. We will also be hosting a panel to explore the opportunities and challenges of using digital information platforms in mental health services with guests Sara Munro (CE of Leeds and York Partnership NHS Foundation Trust), Alison Lowe (CE of Touchstone Mental Health and Wellbeing Charity) and Hannah Davies (Leeds Healthwatch). 

We hope this event will be useful for people living and working in Leeds and people with an interest in mental health in other localities who would like to find out more about developing local digital information platforms. Do drop in and say hello, share your insights and questions. You can register on our eventbrite link here 

Roz Davies

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