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Can digital platforms improve wellbeing and PSHE?

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

With PSHE soon becoming mandatory for schools, many are now looking for new and innovative resources to fulfil and exceed the new statutory requirements.

In this article, we will be reviewing studies which show how digital applications, such as mobile apps, improve wellbeing. Furthermore, we’ll analyse if the information produced from these apps could be used to inform schools on how to improve student wellbeing, and more effectively implement and measure their PSHE programmes.

Could a mobile app improve student wellbeing?

A black smartphone floats in front of a purple background.

There now seems to be an app for nearly any problem you can think of, from navigation to automating your heating, from tracking exercise and to helping you relax. At youHQ, we wanted to look specifically at studies which have researched the success of digital applications claiming that they improve the mental health and wellbeing of the user.

A review by Chandrashekar from 2018 found that these type of mobile apps:

‘have significant potential to deliver high-efficacy mental health interventions. Given the global shortage of psychiatrists and the lack of mental health care’

They later went on to summarise that:

‘apps have emerged as a viable tool to bridge the mental health treatment gap’

Although it’s good to know that an app can be used to help with interventions, not every child will need this level of treatment. As noted in the Government’s recent Green Paper, Transforming Children and Young People’s Mental Health, provision focuses on earlier intervention and prevention, with the aim of ensuring children and young people showing early signs of distress are always able to access the right help, in the right setting, and when they need it. The focus for PSHE should be on prevention to stop children reaching to the point where they require mental health intervention.

Can online digital platforms, used within a PSHE programme, help prevent mental illness and improve wellbeing?

There were positive results on wellbeing from the studies we reviewed. A study by Howell et al (2014) had findings which:

support the viability of smartphone-based interventions to significantly enhance elements of wellbeing’

A later study by Bostock et al in 2019, which looked at the effects of a mindfulness meditation app on work stress and well-being, found that:

‘short guided mindfulness meditations delivered via smartphone and practiced multiple times per week can improve outcomes related to work stress and well-being, with potentially lasting effects.’
A young boy wears headphones whilst surrounded by trees. He is tranquil, calm and mindful.

The evidence seems to suggest apps, such as Calm and Headspace, can actually work at improving wellbeing. It also seems that mobile apps on smart phones can help other illnesses such as symptoms of depression. Firth et al found that their results, from a study on the efficacy of smartphone‐based mental health interventions for depressive symptoms, indicated that smartphone devices are a promising self‐management tool for depression.

Therefore, when looking at prevention and early interventions, it’s important to look at how a PSHE programme can help. By teaching children about health and wellbeing from early on, it should enable them to cope with the challenges they may face. A study by Rickard et al in 2016, looked at development of a mobile app ‘to support self-monitoring of emotional wellbeing’. Rickard concluded that:

‘Mobile phone health technology holds great potential for facilitating the management of emotional health through its ability to deliver flexible, user-oriented intervention and self-management tools; a feature particularly relevant for young people who often report fear of stigma associated with seeking professional services for sensitive mental health issues’

The final point Rickard makes in very poignant when looking at students. Many young people don’t want to reach out, so offering them support through an online platform enables those who don’t have the confidence to get the support they need.

Why are digital applications especially good for students' mental health and wellbeing?

When looking at studies which looked at younger users, the findings were positive. A study by Lattie et al on Digital Mental Health Interventions for Depression, Anxiety, and Enhancement of Psychological Well-Being Among College Students found that:

‘Results suggest that digital mental health interventions can be effective for improving depression, anxiety, and psychological well-being among college students.’

The study also suggested the reason being that digital interventions via web based platforms:

‘offer the possibility of treatment to college students with common mental health problems while circumventing many existing barriers to receiving traditional mental health services, including stigma and time.’

How can digital online platforms help your school administer PSHE and improve whole school wellbeing?

From this review of web-based, digital wellbeing platforms, the research suggests that they can help the overall wellbeing of students. With the new government guidelines of what schools now need to provide children through PSHE, it’s clear that wellbeing is the focus, which will be demanding on schools who already have packed timetables.

Schools will now need to prove that they have shown clear intent for PSHE, evidence to show it has been implemented, and most importantly that it has had an impact. Web-based platforms could now be the way forward to help schools and teachers cover the 3i’s, fulfil their legal requirements, and improve wellbeing across the whole school.

Please visit youhq’s PSHE page and sign up for a free trial, if you are looking to implement a digital platform to improve and monitor wellbeing at your school or college.

Written by Jon Ford


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