The Role of Internet Technology and Social Branding in Improving the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Young People

By Nicholas, Jonathan | Perspectives in Public Health, March 2010 | Go to article overview

The Role of Internet Technology and Social Branding in Improving the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Young People


Nicholas, Jonathan, Perspectives in Public Health


Key words

young people; mental health literacy; help seeking; internet; social branding

Abstract

Aims: With large numbers of young people experiencing mental health difficulties but not seeking help, there is a need to develop not only innovative but also well-promoted strategies that are appealing to this population and reduce barriers to help seeking.

Methods: Reach Out! (http://www.reachout.com.au) is presented as a case study, demonstrating an internet-based initiative that sucessfully incorporates technology and social branding to provide a service that promotes the mental health and wellbeing of young people in Australia aged 16 to 25.

Results: With over seven million visits since its launch in 1998 and one in three young Australians aware of the website, Reach Out! is a trusted service that young people in Australia use when going through a tough time. Online user profiling suggests that after visiting Reach Out!, 38% of young people contact a mental health professional. The implications of these results will be discussed.

Conclusions: Reach Out! can serve as a model for the social sector to utilize technology and social branding to enhance existing community-based services and promote the mental health and wellbeing of young people.

INTRODUCTION

Even though 60% of disability in 15 to 34 year olds is due to mental disorders,1 only 29% of these young people seek help from professional services.2 This leads to an important question: why, despite significant need, do so few young people access support services? There has been significant research undertaken on barriers to help seeking. This research highlights that individual limitations (including a lack of understanding about mental health problems, issues relating to confidentiality and feeling embarrassed about what a professional might think) and physical constraints (including a lack of resources and the location of services) are significant contributors to poor help seeking.3-6

Research on help seeking, however, rarely examines two other barriers, namely the relevance of services provided to young people and the beliefs young people hold about the relevance of services provided. To put it into commercial terms, 'How good is our product?' and 'How good is our brand?' Looking at the proportion of young people who need professional support but do not access it, the answer to both of these questions is probably, 'Not very'. If you assume this to be the case, then part of the solution to improving help seeking among young people may be to do two things. First, develop innovative mental health 'products' that are appealing to young people. Second, develop communication strategies that result in these 'products' being seen as relevant to and trusted by young people.

The internet and related information and communication technology (ICT) are a way of life for young people.7 Of young people in the UK, 41% use the internet daily and 48% spend between 30 and 60 minutes online per visit.8 Additionally, young people in the UK are comfortable seeking advice online about health and related issues like substance use, relationships, sex and family problems.9 Evidence also indicates that when internet-based services provide evidence-based information and support, these services can improve mental health outcomes for users.10

The social sector has used the successful marketing and branding strategies of commercial companies as models to develop social marketing and branding campaigns that positively influence behaviours and aid in the resolution of social and health problems.11 To date, these campaigns have had a positive impact on health behaviours like diabetes, obesity, and substance use such as tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs.12,13 The UK Department of Health has even implemented social marketing as a key element of its national health strategy.14 Social branding expands upon the principles of social marketing to use brand recognition as a means of delivering programmes that promote positive behavioural and social change. …

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