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25 Nov, 2014 17:25

​Depression? There’s an app for that

​Depression? There’s an app for that

Teenagers and young people with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety will be encouraged to use smartphone apps to treat their conditions, a government minister has said.

Care Minister Norman Lamb has called the prescription of anti-depressants to teenagers “a sort of default position,” claiming the government is looking at ways to modernize the mental health treatment of young people in the UK.

Lamb has been outspoken in the past about the provision of mental health care, accusing current services of being “stuck in the dark ages” and “not fit for purpose.”

Reforms to the system include the use of computerized cognitive behavioral therapy, online counseling and peer support networks.

The calls for a rejuvenation of mental health services follow a report published on November 5 by the Commons Select Health Committee, which found that young people were facing “major problems” accessing inpatient mental health.

The report also found that in spite of increases in the demand for mental health care, many areas were seeing their early intervention services cut or suffering insecure or short term funding.

The reportedly “unacceptable” variation in the quality of services left families “battling” for access to treatment, the study concluded.

MPs claimed that much of the increased levels of stress and depression in teenagers was due to the presence of malicious behavior on social networks, suggesting the ubiquity of the internet meant bullying “follows children home.”

Lamb said the new programs currently under development aim to provide a “seamless” service.

If you're a teenager and your world revolves around digital access we must make sure you get access to therapy online.”

Norman Lamb (AFP Photo / Carl Court)

“What I want to achieve is a much more seamless service that allows you access online, face-to-face or over the telephone, whichever is appropriate,” he told The Times.

The Care Minister further claimed there is a “worry” that doctors immediately prescribe anti-depressant medication because there are no appropriate alternative treatments.

Critics of the move say concentrated internet resources could result in depressed youths neglecting to consult their GPs, leaving them without the correct treatment.

Lucie Russell of the charity YoungMinds agreed services need to be adapted for modern society, but warned of potential misdiagnoses from a purely internet-based system.

What we need is a plethora of different responses to young people who are struggling,” she said.

Reports of young people being bullied on the internet have risen, the Health Select Committee claimed, with MP Sarah Wollaston saying that cyber-bullying was “clearly a new source of distress.”

Young women are finding they have shared an image in good faith but then it widely distributed online by young men in the classroom. It’s become normalized within some school environments,” she added.

Children’s charity ChildLine revealed there had been an 87-percent increase in calls from young people reporting online bullying.