London: creating an online platform to help mental health

Local authorities and clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) across London have set up an online platform to provide help and support to people with mental health problems. The service is interactive so provides a personalised offer to people depending on what they search for.


The challenge

Two million Londoners experience mental ill health every year – a figure which is increasing all the time.

But despite this large number, many do not get the help they need. An estimated three-quarters of people in the capital with depression and anxiety go without any treatment at all.

There are a variety of reasons for this. Some people may not actively seek help, while others may struggle to access services given the pressures they are under.

Instead, significant numbers rely on the internet and social media, searching for self-help options to help them deal with their mental health problems.

The solution

Eighteen local authorities and all the CCGs across London came together four years ago to start looking at an online solution to the growing burden of mental ill health – and the London Digital Mental Wellbeing Service was born.

Now known as Good Thinking, it has also been championed by the London Health Board and includes input from NHS England and PHE.

A steering group of local, regional and national experts in public health, mental health and digital innovation has overseen the programme, which went through a rigorous period of testing before its launch in autumn 2017.

The 24/7 online service offers users self-assessment and provides them with advice of where to go for help, whether it be online apps and websites, or if needed, signposting to statutory services.

The service has invested in paid-for Google advertising so it will feature high on people’s searches when they use key words such as “can’t sleep”, “mind racing”, “I’m sad” or “loneliness”.

The service serves content in an interactive way, so what is offered is tailored to what people have searched for, providing individuals with a personalised journey to self-help and self-care.

Users can publicly feedback on the service, which along with analytics data on users’ journeys, means over time Good Thinking will be driven by users themselves.

The impact

The model was soft launched over a three-and-a-half week period. During the pilot, over 400,000 key word searches on Google, Facebook and Twitter by Londoners struggling to sleep led to 3,500 clicking on to the platform to explore more.

Dr Jeanelle de Gruchy, Director of Public Health at Haringey Council and the chair of the steering group, says: “The service is reaching out to those people who would not necessarily come to the public sector for help or who are not getting support for their problems. We now want to see it really take off and thrive.”

Using digital technology to improve the public’s health 9 “Our intention is to have 50,000 Londoners use the service by March 2018. Reaching out to people through their own online communities means we can reach large, but targeted groups of people with empowering messages and self-help tools that they can trust as well as put them in touch with professionals who can help if needed.”

Lessons learned

Dr de Gruchy says one of the major challenges has been to ensure that partners remained committed during the long development stage.

“Projects of this sort do take a long time and ensuring everyone retains their enthusiasm and belief takes effort. The fact that members of the steering group largely remained the same has helped. We have had a project team from the start that coordinated the work on a day-to-day basis, although brought in external expertise and support for the IT development and marketing.”

“But you can never lose sight of how important communication is. We had a lot of stakeholders and tried to provide regular updates about what was happening – a difficult task in the world of agile digital development but we strive to continue to improve this. Having chief executive sponsorship from local government and the NHS is another important aspect in steering a project like this. ”

How is the approach being sustained?

The council and CCG partners each contributed £30,000 to the project, raising over £2 million to see it to launch and then take it through its initial roll out.

But now the team is beginning to look at alternative avenues for funding to ensure it remains sustainable.

“The portal will need to be maintained and updated,” says Dr de Gruchy. “Apps, advice and services are changing all the time. We may bring in a company to do that for us – it is something we have to look at now we have got it going.”

But Dr de Gruchy also hopes the service can provide a blueprint for other digital solutions to health challenges.

“There is no reason why we could not use it as the basis for a similar offer for stop smoking services or to facilitate social prescribing. The work has been done and we aim to build on it.”