Smartphone-based routine mental health monitoring in schools

Around one in seven young people in the UK present with a diagnosable mental disorder; the majority are untreated, often resulting in poorer mental/physical health, and social/economic outcomes in adulthood. Early identification and treatment are therefore vital.

Schools are a crucial environment for preventing mental ill-health but rely on unsatisfactory local evidence for identifying vulnerable youth, detecting early-stage illness, and deciding where to direct new treatments. To date, schools have used expensive, burdensome, and methodologically limited survey methods, leading to sporadic assessments which limit informed decision making.

Using smartphones to collect data

Smartphones are nearly ubiquitous for secondary school aged children and could be used as data collection tools for accurate, low-cost, localised needs assessment and in real-time. Creating and implementing a standardised, well-governed approach for using smartphone-based approaches would ensure greater consistency between school, healthcare, and research outcome measures, facilitate mental health promotion/prevention programmes, provide up-to-date signposting information to access support, and facilitate recruitment into mental health research.

Supported by National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Maudsley Biomedical Research Centre researchers developed the MyJournE app; a novel e-platform and governance model, co-designed with young people from London-based colleges. The app links school enrolment data (e.g., socio-demographic, absence, attainment) with a smartphone-based survey and moment-by-moment mood monitoring.

Helping schools, students and parents

The app provides value for the school by combining student- and parent-reported information to produce group-level reports on their student populations’ wellbeing and mental health needs. Linked enrolment data enable representativeness. These reports can then be used in consultation with local providers, to help schools understand the targeting, timing, and subsequent impact of their mental health interventions.

To provide value for students and their parents, the app signposts to local and national support services and resources, but also gives older students the ability to track fluctuations in their mood and record positive and negative experiences. The app creates feedback graphs which help the student reflect with a trusted adult on how or why their mood changes, as recommended by users of mood-monitoring apps.

MyJournE has been piloted in local schools and we will expand and test it with more than 30 further primary/secondary schools over the next five years and adapt it to include assessments of risk factors to identify which children may benefit from preventive interventions.




Involving Patients in Research | Improving Access and Uptake