MindMate: using technology to improve the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people

MindMate is a website, co-produced by Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group and young people, providing a single point of access to information on mental health written in a clear style and without medical jargon.         

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The challenge

Professionals heard regularly that young people in Leeds struggle with all types of emotional and mental health issues, including stress about school, feelings about food or coping with self-harm.

As part of a review of services, the need for accessible information and clear signposting to support young people in Leeds was established. Feedback showed that young people prefer to access information digitally. They were clear they wanted a single point of access to information specific to their city through a trusted local site, written in a clear style and without medical jargon.         

The solution

Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group wanted to create a website, co-produced with them, that was engaging and talked about mental health issues in a normalising way. The website’s purpose was to support self-care and allow self-help information to be shared. The overall look and tone of voice for website was key. Adhering to NHS guidelines the site had to be trusted by all and be ‘not too clinical or too childish’.

If a website was going to be central to the lives of children and young people in Leeds, then they must be central to its creation.

Programme leads ran workshops, created forums and tested the site. The writers, designers and developers consulted young people on everything, from naming, branding and colour, through to UX and the site’s functionality. As the site was built, they ensured complete accessibility, whether someone had low literacy, English as a second language, or required a screen-reader. As a result of the consultation MindMate.org.uk was created.

Working with all partners across the city, they wanted the website to be the central resource for young people, parents and carers and professionals alike. There is a young people’s approval process and a similar one for parents and carers, allowing the CCG to be sure that the content works for the target group. 

Clinical safety is overseen and assured through a regular professional panel.  Here practitioners from relevant services across Leeds ensure that everything on the site is based on good evidence, and links to the “Leeds way” of supporting young people.

Further development and refinement of the site has come from both young people and professionals. Increasing the interaction of the site has been key; and several games have been developed to encourage young people to have discussions or think about some of the issues around mental health in a fun way.  For example, ‘Find Your MindMates’ encourages people to think about who they know, and who can support them, from friends and family to professionals.

The site supports the local offer for the council, and is linked to it as one of the key sources of information on social, emotional and mental health services. To further support this they have created animations for a range of services that offer social, emotional and mental health support. These describe the services in an easy to use way, and can be viewed by young people referred into services and their parents and carers. Each service, and some of their service users, have worked to create these.

The impact

MindMate is much more than a website. It has quickly become the trusted friend for young people. Its unique design and approach ensures it deals with the sensitive issues, in a way that relates, rather than patronises.  The tone and simplicity of the wording of the website has become a benchmark for the way professionals talk to one another.  They challenge the use of jargon and clinical terms, by encouraging people to think about the language they would use if they were adding a section to the MindMate website.

A MindMate panel of young people has been established and MindMate ambassadors visit schools and youth centres to both promote MindMate and receive feedback from young people. The city’s youth council and clu’d up, the local care leaver voice and influence team, are regularly positive, as is the annual Youthwatch consultation, undertaken by Healthwatch Leeds.

Website statistics show that there are over 8500 unique views every month, with more services engaging with the site and adding content.

The MindMate branding has become synonymous with social, emotional and mental health issues across Leeds.  This extended to creating a MindMate version of Prince Harry when he visited Leeds to talk at ‚Encouraging Happy Young Minds’.

The site has become the ‘go-to’ source of all things social, emotional and mental health in Leeds for professionals.  It houses information on the MindMate Single Point of Access (for referral to services), MindMate Champions Programme (which aims to improve the approach of school and children centres as social, emotional and mental health-friendly settings) and MindMate Lessons (lesson plans and resources for schools); all are collated on the MindMate website. All children centres and over 70 per cent of schools are now enrolled on the MindMate Champion programme.

Professionals such as GPs have told the clinical commissioning group that they love that everything is in one place and that they can share this with young people.  Other professionals say that they offer it to parents and carers to understand more about the services that are out there, and what they can do to support the young person in their lives.  Because it is accessible 24 hours a day, it offers support when other services are not available.

MindMate’s design won the prestigious Digital Design Effectiveness Award.  Popularity is increasing with agreement now in place with several clinical commissioning groups to allow them use of the MindMate approach including content and redesign for their local area. 

Developing local leadership and accountability

The website has evolved way beyond the Clinical Commissioning Group’s its original aspirations.  It strikes a balance between giving enough information, which is related to mental health and wellbeing; and creating a site which is over-saturated with generic information for children and young people.

Partnerships with key professionals and providers in the city has been crucial.  The website and its development programme is overseen by the Future in Mind: Leeds Programme Board. The Health and Wellbeing Board have ultimate responsibility for its performance and in ensuring that the Local Transformation Plan is refreshed every year.


Jane Mischenko
Lead Strategic Commissioner, Leeds Clinical Commissioning Group
[email protected]

This case study, written by Su Turner of Insight to Impact Consulting Ltd, is taken from the forthcoming LGA publication ‘Lessons in local leadership and accountability for children’s mental health services’.

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