The app that fills a gap in child and teenage mental health services

6 July 2017

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One in 12 young people in the UK between the ages of 12 and 19 self-harms, more than anywhere else in Europe according to a Mental Health Foundation report. Considering these harrowing statistics, mental health experts are saying that more funding is needed to improve services.

Self-harm is one of the most common reasons for children to contact the charity Childline. Esther Rantzen, President of Childline, said that young people often feel ashamed and scared to ask for help from people close to them and recommends finding new ways to cope. 

App to manage self-harm urge

One way of coping is by using Calm Harm, a smartphone app that helps children and young people manage their urge to self-harm. Calm Harm, one of this year’s finalists of the AXA PPP Health Tech & You Awards, is the brainchild of Consultant Clinical Psychologist Dr Nihara Krause, who has over 27 years of clinical experience in adolescent and adult mental health, specialising in self-harm and eating disorders. 

The app is based on Dialectic Behaviour Therapy (DBT), an evidence-based therapy which helps manage intense and variable emotions. “Services for young people are stretched and due to the secrecy of the behaviour, some young people will not want to access services,” says Dr Krause. 

The app provides four categories of tasks that help resist or manage the urge to self-harm: Distract, Release, Express and Comfort. There is also a breathe category. Users then have either 5 or 15 minutes to perform a range of different kinds of tasks. They are also able to self-monitor through noticing triggers, are signposted to resources and can log their progress. 

Anger and peer pressure

Josh, 14, lives in Surrey and has been regularly self-harming. Josh uses Calm Harm to help with feelings of anger and especially when his parents are angry with him. He uses the app at least once a week and reports that it has reduced his urge to self-harm.

As children and young people are currently using Calm Harm to help with feelings of anxiety and not just self-harming urges, the stem4 team is looking to create a new version just for this condition. They are also looking at versions to help other impulse control difficulties such as binge eating.

Success after the Awards

Dr Krause explains that the Awards have led to an increase in app downloads due to the exposure. “These downloads have been very helpful in contributing to an evaluation study we are carrying out on the app’s effectiveness.”

As well as increased exposure, the AXA PPP Health Tech & You Awards has improved Calm Harm’s chances in applications for two further awards. She adds: “We have also had one meeting with an investor who attended the Health Tech & You exhibition at the Design Museum.” 

Going forward, Calm Harm is looking to utilise user feedback and evaluation data to modify the app to suit the ages of the users, make it adaptable to variable forms of self-harm and to continue to create an effective tool in self-harm reduction.