Smartphones are changing the cultural influences on children’s development. In part four of her six-part series, Dr Stephanie Thornton considers what we know about the influence of smartphones on young people’s mental health

Smartphones offer apps for more or less everything. Mental health is no exception, as is clear from websites for organisations such as MIND, or the NHS.

There are apps designed to help teenagers overcome mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, phobias, even manic-depression and other serious disorders. The hope is that such apps will give individuals in trouble instant access to therapeutic support, bypassing the waiting lists and limited resources of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).

Therapy through a phone app might also bypass the stigma still attached to mental health issues, encouraging the young to address their problems early on. These are grand aspirations, and maybe worth a try. Alas, a major review (Grist et al, 2017) concludes that as yet, we simply don’t have research demonstrating whether or not these apps are effective.

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