NIHR CYP MedTech supporting three new projects to support the mental health of young people and their families

Tuesday 11 April 2023

Today, there are 1.7 million children and young people in England that are living with a long-term condition such as asthma, diabetes and epilepsy. These children are more likely to develop mental health conditions as a result of obstacles they may face day to day. Managing their condition every day, transitioning to adult services or not receiving the support they need at school are just a few examples of challenges these young people face, that over time can lead to mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

In 2022, the Department of Health tasked NIHR CYP MedTech with identifying important research in this area that would benefit from Proof of Concept funding. We are delighted to share that this funding will be used to pump-prime three new projects that aim to support the mental health of children and young people living with long-term conditions, and their families. With the help of a group of young people during a Young Person Reviewer Workshop and an independent professional review process, we are excited to introduce the three teams that were successful in a competitive round of funding applications.

These projects each propose an innovation that addresses an unmet need for these young people by providing accessible tools for mental health support either for the young people directly, or their families. By taking a step back to address the mental health of the family as a whole, this approach can help nurture a supportive and understanding environment where everyone’s voices are heard.

Project 1: Type 1 Diabetes Digital Learning Technology Project CIC is a specialist education not-for-profit organisation for children and young people with type-1 diabetes. Deapp Education (pronounced “deep”) is an app-based learning tool that contains fun and engaging videos that explain about type-1 diabetes, combined with physical resources and specialist training for healthcare professionals.

This research project aims to create a supportive learning platform for teachers and school staff in order to further support children at their school. The technology aims to create a supportive environment and reducing social anxiety through improved knowledge and understanding within the whole school.

Project 2: Canopie+

One in 7 babies require admission to the neonatal unit in the UK every year. For parents and carers, this can be an extremely distressing time where they face huge uncertainty and many difficult emotions. The Compassion Focused Approach is known to improve people’s wellbeing in a variety of other contexts. The Canopie app has already demonstrated considerable impact with this model, improving the emotional wellbeing of a wider group of parents. Our plan is to develop the app further, working with parents to develop compassion focused resources specifically for neonatal families.

Dr Davy Evans, Clinical Psychologist at Birmingham Women and Children’s and one of the Canopie team members, says: “We’re really excited to work on this project to help make compassion-focused psychological support more universally accessible to families in neonatal care. Working with the team at Canopie and NIHR, we’re looking forward to bringing this resource to the families who will really benefit.”

For exciting updates on this project, follow the Canopie team on Twitter using the link below.

Project 3: Nell and the Neonatal Unit

We know that it is very stressful for parents and children to have a new baby on a neonatal unit (NNU). It can also be difficult for parents to know how to explain why their new baby cannot come home to their older child. Nell and the Neonatal unit is a free app for use by primary-school aged children (with or without parental support) that will help children whose siblings are born early or are unwell to learn about a NNU.

The app will help to normalise children’s emotional experiences, answer questions that are commonly asked by children who visit the NNU and provide some strategies for managing big feelings with having a sibling on the NNU through stories and games. Additionally, this technology will help children create a bond with their new sibling whilst they’re in hospital and will provide tools for children to continue to feel close to their parents during such a stressful time.

Nell and the Neonatal Unit will use a range of storylines and animations, see above image, to illustrate examples of experiences that families may encounter in the NNU, and provide strategies to help them through a stressful time.

The research is funded and supported by the National Institute for Health and Care Research NIHR Children and Young People MedTech Co-operative. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health.