A digital approach to stemming commonly occurring mental health issues in children and young people

The pressures on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) are well publicised, with 37% of children and young people referred to the service being refused help*.

Thousands of young people in the UK who are struggling with their mental health are therefore turning to digital resources to help them manage conditions that have left them feeling low, isolated and, in some cases suicidal.

stem4 has developed its digital portfolio in response to this; creating clinically-led digital interventions, empowering people to manage their own health and wellbeing and signposting to appropriate support. 

Calm Harm

Calm Harm is an app to help teenagers resist or manage the urge to self-harm through evidence-based Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) techniques.

Calm Harm uses the notion that ‘the urge to self-harm is like a wave - feeling most powerful when you start wanting to do it. Once you surf the wave, the urge will fade’. Users can learn to ‘surf the wave’ through exercises and can access data and information to help them better understand their urges to more effectively manage them.

This multi-award-winning app was one of the first mental health apps to appear on the NHS Apps Library and has subsequently been downloaded over 960,000 times globally with 93% of users reporting a reduction in the urge to self-harm after completing an exercise.

Users have spent over 14,000 hours using the app since its 2017 launch, which equates to a full-time NHS clinical psychologist carrying out consultations over a period of 11 years.


Clear Fear

Following the incredible impact of Calm Harm, stem4 created the Clear Fear app to help teenagers overcome anxiety using the principles of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Clear Fear encourages the user to ‘face their fear and glide’ and focuses on reducing the physical responses to threat, changing thoughts and behaviours and releasing emotions.

7.2% of 5-19-year olds referred to CAMHS in 2017 had an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is also the most common disorder affecting children, young people and adults**. App analytics also indicated that some users of Calm Harm were managing their anxiety rather than self-harm behaviours. This helped identify a transferable user base who would receive greater benefit from an evidence-based CBT approach.

Clear Fear has now been downloaded over 40,000 times since its launch in December 2018 and users have spent over 2,500 hours completing over 50,000 exercises on the app with 92% reporting that these exercises have helped.

This app was part-funded by a Comic Relief/Paul Hamlyn Foundation Tech for Good grant and is currently going through the assessment process for inclusion on the NHS Apps Library alongside Calm Harm.


What’s next?

stem4 is in the process of developing ‘Combined Minds’, an app to help parents and friends support someone with a mental health problem using a Strengths Based CBT Approach and recently received further Tech for Good funding to develop a new app which will use an evidence-based, Behavioural Activation approach to help young people manage symptoms of depression.

Throughout stem4’s digital portfolio a co-creation process is employed, working with the various audiences, requesting their feedback on desired outputs, user journeys, visual concepts, security/privacy, user experience and tone of voice. All stem4 apps have accompanying Clinical Risk Assessments, maintained hazard logs and are regularly updated incorporating user feedback.


*Children’s Commissioner, 2019 Children’s Mental Health Briefing, November 2018, gov.uk. 

**NHS Digital (2018) The Mental Health of Children and Young People in England, 2017, Health and Social Care Information Centre

stem4 is a London based teenage mental health charity working with secondary schools

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