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Young People develop mental health related apps during Hackathon

The following is written by Alex Goforth (Programme Lead) and Charlotte Barrett (Project Officer) at London and South East IAPT.

There isn’t much doubt that young people – Millennials – below the age of 25 are digital natives. The younger the person, the less likely it is that they will have any experience of life without some digital adjunct to their world.

Recent health and social care policy, such as the National Information Board’s ‘ Personalised Health and Care 2020’ and ‘Using information technology to improve the NHS’, and especially that around children and young people’s mental health, (including Future in Mind, 2015), has underlined the importance of harnessing digital technology in leveraging more accessible and effective mental health services.  Crucially, these need to be co-produced and shaped with children and young people as collaborators and partners.

One such initiative is a Hackathon series led by London & South East CYP IAPT Learning Collaborative at the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families, with Founders & Coders. A hackathon is the coming together of programmers to code over a very short period to improve upon or build new software programs, and our most recent event began with a digital workshop day for young people and clinicians to generate and refine ideas for software and apps. Over a two week period 9 ideas were honed into 4 product proposals, which became working prototypes over the course of 4 days, and were demonstrated to friends and colleagues for feedback. 

undefinedThe 4 prototyped products and the gathered feedback were pitched on 23rd September to an audience of young people, mental health and digital experts and Mayor of Camden, Nadia Shah, who selected the winners on the basis of real world need, user feedback, technical viability, evidence-base, and projected development roadmap. Two apps are now in the development stage, following the award of development funding.  

‘Face It’ is a game designed for young people with Autistic Spectrum Conditions (ASC) and Asperger’s Syndrome to practice recognising emotions. The user is shown a face and is asked to recognise and name the emotion expressed. Their choice is then compared to that made by the Microsoft Facial Emotion interface. Of Face It, a young person with ASC said “the layout is good. I can understand the text. It is fun and can be could be used in schools. I would play more levels”.

The other app, ‘Breathe with Me’, is an evidence-based animated app designed to help reduce stress and symptoms of anxiety amongst children and young people by teaching users diaphragmatic breathing exercises. Users are asked to select an animal – a cat, dog or panda – and are told to sync their breath to the movements of the animation, which shows the animal breathing in and out at timed intervals. Users are encouraged to breathe deeply for five minutes to gain maximum benefits but have the option to quit the app at any time. It is accessible across all devices and, once downloaded, does not use any data. There have been reports that the iconic Breathe with Me cat is being used by clinicians as a screen saver on their phones!

This is the second Hackathon that has been run as part of the digital workstream of the London & South East Learning Collaborative of a national programme of transformation of children and young people’s mental health services known as CYP IAPT. CYP IAPT is working to ensure all mental health services for children and young people offer interventions that have been shown to be most effective, collect feedback and outcome data for better outcomes and transparency, and are co-produced from the ground up with the people who use them.


Software Developers from Founders and Coders are currently working closely with their product owners and the Learning Collaborative so that a first iteration of a viable product will be complete by the end of October.  All the products are open source, which means they are free for any service to use and adapt on the basis that they are not used commercially, and that adaptations are shared back with the community.