Start your journey

Learning a new skill can feel daunting, especially when it means approaching a new area like social media – which is fast-moving – in a sensitive context – like mental health. The perceived lack of organisational support can add to the difficulty. However, whether we like it or not, social media is here to stay. It is widely used by young people – with or without support. The more we wait to get on this fast-moving train, the more we will need to catch up and the more young people will have used social media without professional support in the context of mental.

So, where do you start? We’re proposing a journey, which people who come in contact with young people can use to get started. Feel free to pick what you need or add your own ideas.

1. Find a partner

If you’re starting this journey on your own, it’s easy to feel discouraged and daunted. Look around you. Is there anyone who shows a level of interest in exploring innovative approaches to promote young people mental health? It might be inside your organisation or outside. They might be uneasy about digital but prepared to overcome their resistance if it benefits the young people they work with.

2. Self-reflect

Establishing a regular self-reflection practice helps you translate what you learn into action and embed it in your everyday working life. Here are some pointers to help you self-reflect about exploring digital approaches to support youth mental wellbeing.

  • How do you feel about talking about mental health with young people?
  • How do you feel engaging with digital tools?
  • How comfortable are you with social media?
  • What digital tools do you use in your personal life?
  • Why and how do you use these digital tools? The Online Lives chapter might help you explore this area.
  • Try to place yourself on an imaginary scale.
    • Do you hate technology and believe it has no place in the area of mental health?
    • Are you resistant and afraid engaging with digital and/or mental health?
    • Are you hoping that digital offers an avenue to be explore, but not sure how to engage?
    • Are you starting to open your eyes and willing to learn about digital, about mental health and how the two interact?
    • Are you growing confident about using digital in general?
    • Are you growing confident about using digital to promote youth mental wellbeing?
    • Do you consider yourself a bit of digi-evangelist?
    • Do you consider yourself a professional in this field?

Working out how you feel about exploring digital approaches to promote mental wellbeing among young people will help you identify your own barriers before you can tackle outside barriers.

Further reading on self-reflection.

3. Do your research

With online technologies being used on daily basis in today’s world and digital resources being designed to meet specific needs, it’s vital to identify digital resources and technologies and recognise how they may be of benefit to you now and how they might help young people you work with.

It all starts with doing your research. We recommend that you read the toolkit, starting from the beginning. In each page, you will find links to further reading. They include research papers, presentations or examples.

In particular, we have tried to highlight the way case studies of organisations that have responded to the challenge of digital approaches for mental wellbeing. In this fast-moving field, learning from each other is key.

The resource map is another good place to start exploring examples of digital approaches to youth mental wellbeing. You can also submit new resources that you will find during your research so that others can benefit too.

If you haven’t tried NetAware already, it’s a great guide to social networks young people use. Get to know the most used sites, apps and games by young people.

4. What are your organisation's requirements?

Social media and digital approaches in general present challenges to organisations working with young people. Your organisation most likely has some policies, procedures or requirements. We cannot stress enough how important it is to find them out. Read them carefully.

Although many professionals find that they are restrictive in allowing them to engage with young people, you might find that you have more latitude than you think. You might want to consider challenging them if you see opportunities to engage safely.

We would like to offer another perspective: engaging with young people around digital and social media doesn’t all have to be done online. It’s about starting a conversation from a point of view of knowledge and understanding. It can be about relating to their experiences and – if need – connect them with the expert and the advice they need.

5. Start a conversation with young people

Understanding what digital tools young people in general is only a starting point. It is key to understand what the young people you work with use and how they use these tools. It’s then when we gain a deeper understanding of how people behave and why.

For example, in an 18-month long ethnographic study on social media use in an English village, the researcher showed that focusing on most popular websites such as Facebook and Instagram does little to explain what we post on them. The understanding came from spending time with people who post on these platforms, observing behaviour, listening to them.

In the video below, you can see questions young people got asked during Safer Internet Day.

In the video below, you can see questions young people got asked during Safer Internet Day.

To support the project research, the team used a number of tools. The tool presented below proved very useful to start a conversation with young people about the technology they use, how and why they use them. Feel free to download it and use it.

The first page invites the young people to create a made-up ‘persona’, an imaginary young people. It can feel less intrusive to talk about a persona than to talk about yourself. Try to fill in as much detail as possible, imagine what their family might be like, where he/she might live, what’s on their mind…

In the second page, young people can select the devices and social media channels that their persona might use. There’s no doubt that the list we have prepared will soon be out of date as new platforms become available so feel free to add their own. From them, start building the story of how their persona might use these tools. Try encouraging them to build the story – it’s in this rich detail that you will find the insights you need.

This exercise will help you better understand the challenges that the young people you work with face and provide some support.

6. Connect with the experts

Digital and social media are such vast and fast moving landscapes that no one can ever be an expert in all aspects. However, they are other ways the adults who live and work with young people can fit in and provide support.

If you are an expert in a particular area, you could consider expanding your knowledge to include the online counterpart of your expertise. Respect Me for example, “work with all adults involved in the lives of children and young people to give them the practical skills and confidence to deal with children who are bullied and those who bully others.” Bullying is bullying, whether it happens online or in the school playground – and people might need support through a variety of channels, online and in person. The support they offer encompasses the online and offline elements.

The Internet and social media are also powerful assets to help you identify and connect with the experts in the area your young people are struggling with. You will find on the Resource Map dozens of organisations, websites, apps and campaigns who can provide information and support in the area of mental health and wellbeing. It is a good place to start to find extra support.

Social media is also a good place to keep abreast of new development in the area of digital approaches for youth mental health. You can use Twitter for example to find and follow the experts. You will see their updates, links, articles and research they have found interesting. You don’t even have to give your real name or participate; you can simply ‘follow’ the people you’re interested in.

Here are some tips to get you started:

new dating apps.

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