Voxsio, Youth Leaders and Finance Secretary Derek Mackay

Starting the mental health conversation

We are excited to showcase a great example of how co-production with young people can lead to innovative new solutions to improve mental health. This blog, written by Dominic MacInnes, Digital Content Manager of The CivTech® Programme, describes how pupils from Stirling High School teamed up with tech company Voxsio to develop an app to improve access to mental health support. This work was supported by the CivTech programme, a Scottish Government initiative that invites tech companies to solve public sector challenges.

Technology and social media are just two of the highly complex areas young people have to navigate while growing up and it is against this background that mental health is increasingly highlighted as a key issue.

Mental health challenges vary greatly and can impact on every aspect of life, affecting relationships with family and friends and leading to serious problems, physical harm and even suicide.

Working with NHS National Services Scotland (NSS), Stirling Council and Healthcare Improvement Scotland, young people from Stirling sought to improve the ways in which their age group can access support around their mental health.

NHS NSS, Stirling Council and Healthcare Improvement Scotland empowered the youth leaders to make a change through the Scottish Government Digital Directorate’s award-winning CivTech® programme, which starts with the problem and not the solution.

Normally, the CivTech® programme works with public organisations (Challenge Sponsors) to co-design briefs around challenges they are facing. These briefs are published online with successful applicants competing against each other to produce the most cost effective, innovative solution.

For this challenge, the young leaders defined the brief and identified the problems areas they were looking to solve:

  • To reduce stigma around mental health
  • To have a product that is personalised and adapts to individual needs
  • Allows timely access to help – #AskOnceGetHelp

The young leaders led on each stage of the CivTech procurement process, eventually selecting the company Voxsio to solve the challenge.

Stirling High S5 pupil Ruby Ginoris, speaking on behalf of the Stirling Youth Leaders said: “The idea behind our choice was to help tackle the stigma surrounding mental health. We wanted technology that could offer personalised help and we felt Voxsio fully engaged with the issue and listened to what we were saying. It is really exciting to be leading on a key issue for young people all across Scotland and starting a conversation around this important subject”.

Voxsio met the youth leader’s criteria in key ways. By creating the solution for smartphones/PC and marketing it via existing social media—it starts to become the norm and reduces stigma.

By using conversational artificial intelligence (AI), it can tailor it’s response to what the young person says they need help with.

And by having it available on a digital platform, it is fully accessible.

Voxsio CEO Michael McTernan said: “It is pleasure to work with the Youth Leaders and match their enthusiasm in improving mental health discussions. Our priority is to start conversations around mental health and we believe it is crucial that conversations around mental health are personalised. Voxsio are using conversational artificial intelligence to help support young people in dealing with mental health issues.”

Voxsio are now developing AlliChat – their conversational chat app that uses AI to deliver personalised advice to young people and help manage their mental health. Launched at CivTech Demo Day 3.0 on February 6th 2019, AlliChat has already received two awards – at the Holyrood Connect ICT awards and Scottish EDGE 2019 – allowing them to further fund the solution, unlock its potential and fully bring it to market.

Stirling Council empowered the young people to lead this challenge and continues to support them in their journey. NHS NSS are continuing to look for innovative new ways to help solve the mental health crisis, to understand outcomes and to be able to scale solutions across Scotland.

This process was a first for CivTech®, enabling citizens to have a direct say in the procurement process, and paves the way for more meaningful citizen engagement in how our public services are procured.

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