Increased mental wellbeing support for young people

Young people in Portsmouth now have access to a free, digital mental health service. The Kooth online counselling and emotional wellbeing service has been commissioned by Health and Care Portsmouth. It will enable more young people to be supported, which is particularly important given the impact of COVID-19 on children and young people’s mental health.

Kooth.com is available to young people aged 11-18 years old in Portsmouth, or up to the age of 25 for care leavers and those with an Education Health and Care Plan. The site provides young people with a free, safe and anonymous way to access support from qualified counsellors as well as a range of self-help resources for mild to moderate mental health issues, such as anxiety, loneliness, stress and body image.

Kooth, which is accredited by The British Association of Psychotherapy and Counselling (BACP), has no referrals, thresholds or waiting lists. Young people can self-register at kooth.com. The site is available 24/7, with counselling available 12pm – 10pm Monday to Friday and 6pm – 10pm at weekends, all year round.

The decision to introduce an online platform follows feedback from young people and their families that a digital service would be a convenient and accessible way to access support, with young people liking the ability to remain anonymous.

Young people using Kooth can use instant messaging to speak to a qualified counsellor via an online drop-in service or booked session. They can also join moderated forum discussions about a range of topics, and use a daily journal to track their feelings and reflect on how they’re doing.

The launch of Kooth further bolsters Portsmouth’s mental health support for children and young people which was praised in the recent multi-agency report following joint targeted area inspections (JTAIs) in the city. The Kooth offer complements the Mental Health Support Teams, which are currently available in 32 Portsmouth primary and secondary schools, and this additional provision will help to ensure that young people can be supported more quickly. The Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) continues to be available to support with more moderate to severe mental health issues in young people. Other online national resources also exist to provide mental health advice and support to young people and their families, ensuring there is a well-rounded offer available.

The commissioning of Kooth is part of Portsmouth’s 2020-2023 Social, Emotional and Mental Health Strategy for children and young people, which includes a focus on ensuring early help is available to support emotional wellbeing and mental health needs, preventing difficulties from escalating and requiring specialist mental health services.

Dr Linda Collie, Clinical Leader for NHS Portsmouth Clinical Commissioning Group, said;

We know that there has been an increase in young people experiencing mental health issues, and that was before you take into account the impact of Covid-19. The arrival of Kooth couldn’t have come at a better time and it will serve as an integral component of Portsmouth’s mental health provision.

“Being able to support young people at an early stage of them experiencing mental health concerns will help to reduce those needing more intensive support once issues have become more complex and deep-rooted.”

Alison Jeffery, Director of Children’s Services at Portsmouth City Council, said;

“Digital solutions are an important part of our mental health strategy for young people and have become even more essential due to Covid-19, which has led to a requirement for remote options as well as increased demand for services. We’re pleased that Kooth will enable more young people to be supported, more quickly, especially during these challenging times.”

“By providing young people with a highly accessible and anonymous way to access support safely from experienced counsellors we hope this will mitigate any stigma that young people may feel about accessing support for their mental health.”

Cllr Suzy Horton, Cabinet Member for Children, Families & Education, added;

“Supporting children and young people with their mental wellbeing is a fundamental element in enabling them to achieve a bright future. I’m thrilled that we’ve further enhanced our mental health support with a new digital service. Young people told us that they liked accessing support this way, especially the ability to remain anonymous, so I’m pleased that we’ve been able to launch this at such a pivotal time. With the challenges of the pandemic and disruption to normal routines, alongside the pressures that young people already face, it’s important that we help them to feel supported and connected as best we can.”