In support of Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, Andrew Jackson, CEO of ProReal, talks about his drive to help young people learn better resilience strategies.
ProReal is an immersive, online platform that allows children and young people to understand and express difficult thoughts and feelings within a virtual world. It encourages them to visualise their problems, label their emotions and see their situation from different perspectives.
Mental health problems affect around 1 in 10 children and young people. This can include depression, anxiety and conduct disorder, and it’s often a direct response to what is happening in their lives. A recent YoungMinds survey showed that 80% of respondents agreed that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic had made their mental health worse. The survey also revealed that many of those who were accessing mental health support in the three months leading up to the crisis were no longer able to get the help they needed.
The West of England AHSN has helped us explore the area of young people’s mental resilience during the pandemic by working across different boundaries – school, council, health and evaluation – as part of its Future Challenges programme. The pilot project, called MiHUB, is an innovative technology-based project that aims to support young people’s wellbeing and resilience. Working collaboratively, ProReal, Wiltshire Council and the Bath and North East Somerset, Swindon and Wiltshire Clinical Commissioning Group are using virtual reality technology to supplement current mental health approaches to equip young people with the necessary skills to understand and express how they feel about particular challenges in their lives. I’ve been impressed with the way that the AHSN has joined the dots to support the pilot – working across education, evaluation, health and industry is not easy, but we have much more in common than we first realised.
MiHUB has been used many times by one year group in a Wiltshire secondary school. The early feedback from students is positive, particularly regarding the opportunity they have to use creative and visual ways of expressing themselves. One member of staff has described the experience as: “particularly helpful for those students who don’t know how to verbalise their feelings because using colour, size and emojis really helps”.
My hope for the future is that young people can improve their resilience at home, at school, and online as well as discover better strategies for dealing with life’s challenges in fun and engaging ways. I also hope that NHS clinicians will have access to a range of different technologies to provide care to many, and at scale.
Find out more about ProReal.