Horse-whispering and Virtual Reality Safe Spaces: Grassroot Digital Ideas to Support the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Young People

People from all walks of life and professions gathered at an intensive two-day bootcamp to work on new digital and technology-based solutions to support positive mental health and build the resilience of young people.


The bootcamp, held in Bristol on Friday 26 and Saturday 27 April, was part of the Create Open Health initiative, launched by not-for-profit organisation, Creative England, The West of England Academic Health Science Network (AHSN), and The Wellcome Trust, which called for talented people with remarkable ideas that will positively impact and empower young people, their communities, parents and caregivers.


Since its launch in March, the initiative received nearly 200 applications, of which 12 were selected for the bootcamp sessions. From mood trackers and virtual reality safe spaces, to horse-whispering concepts and digital tools that allow young people to access recovery tasks between therapy sessions, the ideas and solutions discussed and developed during the bootcamp were as varied as they were creative. All the ideas leverage digital or technology solutions to have a positive impact on mental health. From improving experience of mental health care and facilitating treatment, to educating and empowering young people directly and the communities around them, the ideas ultimately aim to have a significant impact on the way young people manage their mental health. These ideas came from entrepreneurs, mental health youth first aiders, student support managers, civil engineers, clinical psychologists, youth workers, university lecturers, charity CEOs, and people who had been personally affected by mental health issues.


The bootcamp sessions were designed to give the proposed solutions a strong business development groundwork, kickstart the product or service development process and introduce the intricacies of implementing innovation within the healthcare sector. Following this bootcamp, the organisations affiliated with Create Open Health will continue to support the creation, launch and implementation of the final product or service. Opportunities to receive investment, including potential introductions to investors and direct investment, will also be offered in order to cultivate commercially sustainable propositions which could viably work within the UK health sector.


Kate Adam, Business Investment Manager at Creative England, comments, “We were looking for ideas that directly support and empower children and young people, their caregivers or their community, and were thrilled with the creative and innovative applications we received. Children and young people are affected by mental health issues in such a variety of different ways, and there is no one size fits all, but the passion, knowledge, and personal experience of each shortlisted applicant has been an inspiration. We hope that by working together we can ultimately support these ideas and solutions to become a reality and in turn have a real impact on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people in the UK.”


Gareth Morgan, who wants to develop a digital version of his ‘This Day I Am’ cards, commented: “Looking after your mental health is like looking after your teeth. You don’t only brush your teeth when you get toothache, instead it is a part of a daily routine of ongoing care. We see mental health in the same way, that’s why we created the ‘This Day I Am’ deck of cards, which offer a different activity each day to inspire users to get active and try something new.”


Harriet Laurie is the CEO of charity TheHorseCourse and has an idea to turn their ‘Non-verbals Toolbox Training’ into a digital app for young people, their parents and their friends. She commented “Our approach is based on a unique model derived from ‘horse-whispering’ concepts. We know from our 9 years of innovation and robust testing that these simple physical strategies work. If we can deliver them to young people who need instant help when they find themselves in a stressful moment, we can help so many more from spiralling into poor mental health.”

Cristobal Catalan has developed an idea based around virtual reality and gaming. He commented: “I hope that Create Open Health will help achieve my ambition to enable a proactive and preventive approach towards mental health and wellbeing of young people through self-help interventions and by building a global support network. I believe that self-help interventions through immersive media and technology will not only empower young people to take control and increase their resilience of mental health and wellbeing, but also help close the resource gap in the health sector.”


“It was fantastic, that after months of planning, and a lot of hard work from the Create Open Health team and the applicants, I was finally able to meet the successful entrepreneurs at the bootcamp,” says Professor Nigel Harris, Director of Innovation and Growth at The West of England AHSN. “I was really impressed by the diversity and range of ideas that were presented. We know that it is tough challenge developing a product through to market, but look forward to seeing some of these come though and being able to make a difference to the many young people who are facing these challenges every day.”


As part of the programme, Create Open Health worked with technology and software specialists, Simpleweb, and digital marketing and business development consultancy, Disruptive Thinking, to deliver the intensive two-day bootcamp. They also received support and advice from Off the Record throughout the assessment and application process, a charity which provides mental health support for young people across Bristol and South Gloucestershire.


To find out more about Create Open Health, please visit: www.creativeengland.co.uk