Make it human

Enable access to help from a real person where possible.

Further description

Digital mental health interventions for young people are becoming more prevalent. This is beneficial for many reasons: easier access, greater confidentiality, the option of anonymity. They’re also a familiar medium for young people and low-cost for the provider. Largely, they are helping young people overcome barriers to treatment. 

However, they must not be used to replace human contact completely. 

Research has shown that young people highly value face-to-face therapeutic or emotional support and that provision should not be replaced entirely by digital interactions. 

There is a huge proven benefit of human interaction alongside digital mental health interventions. Human interaction influences both the intervention’s effectiveness and the engagement from the young person.  

In this way, it is key to make your service human. 

If possible, prioritise having a communication channel that leads to a real person within your service. If this isn’t possible, ensure that you are transparent about where the user’s messages might be going, who will respond, and what the response time-frame will be. 

It is paramount to provide details of helplines - staffed by humans - that young people can reach out to when in crisis. 

Research has shown that some people who are feeling suicidal go online to access help, advice, or support. There is also evidence to show that people who are receiving community mental health care do not know who to contact outside of working hours if they have a crisis. Your service can ensure there is a direct line to human connection at all times - either yours or another provider. 

In the digital product market, human interaction is still valued incredibly highly, despite there being huge advances in technology and capabilities. For example, a survey conducted by The Boston Consulting Group and NICE, a provider of customer experience data tools, found that 82% of consumers in a sample from advanced economies use a web self-service channel. However, the survey also found that 82% of consumers still call contact centers to speak with agents. 

People still choose human-to-human interaction, despite there being digital interventions. 

A huge benefit of human interaction is that providers are able to adapt and react to the different communication needs of users. Not everyone is able to access technology or translate meaning in the same way, and needs support to understand this. 

Further, within continuous human contact, being able to speak to the same person is preferrable. Evaluation of the Next Generation Service from The Children’s Society found that continuity of relationships were a key factor of success. Young people don’t have to repeat traumatic experiences to different people, and are instead able to spend time moving forwards and making progress. 

Human to human interaction, when provided alongside confidential digital support have the most marked effects on health outcomes.


Further reading