The organisation said its pilot project, led by University of Sydney Psychologist Dr Andrew Campbell, responds to the gap in services and growing demand to migrate e-mental health support online.
“One in three teenagers has a social media account and one in five will suffer a mental health problem,” Campbell said.
“Social media counselling is the new frontier for mental health because it responds to the changing habits of at-risk teens who are digital natives and increasingly using social media to connect.
“Social networks are a preferred option for young people seeking support. In fact research reveals Australian teens are more likely to talk to others via social networks about their problems than they are to get help face-to-face from a trusted person like a parent or counsellor.”
Campbell said while the internet posed inherent dangers, safe and secure social media counselling was the way forward to help teenagers with anxiety or depression.
“Research shows young people like social networking because it makes them feel like they are not alone with their problems,” Dr Campbell said.
“We know that while social networking sites allow young people to connect with their peers, it can also make it easier for them to unwittingly connect with the wrong people online who aren’t looking out for their best interests or seeking to exploit or exacerbate their problems.
“This pilot will create a safe social networking space to support groups of teenagers who are experiencing similar problems under the guidance of a qualified Kids Helpline.”
Kids Helpline CEO Tracy Adams said the past five years had seen a huge growth in young people seeking help via online counselling, with it now accounting for 42% of all Kids Helpline counselling sessions.
“This pilot project addresses a growing need for online support,” Adams said.
“Kids Helpline has always adapted to respond to the needs of children and young people, and with the evidence showing one in three kids is using social media, we’re moving there to support teens looking for counselling support.
“If this pilot is successful, this innovative peer support model could allow us to provide ongoing support for even more young people.”
Interestingly, the organisations involved picked Google+ for the trial, though the social network has experienced surprising surges in usage over recent months.
The project will trial the use of the Google+ in a bid to help young people manage their depression and anxiety. Under the pilot project, young people who contact Kids Helpline will be assessed and, if appropriate, directed to secure social networking areas for their age group.
Each group will have a maximum of 10 members who are all dealing with similar issues and so can share their experiences and gain support from one another.
To ensure the young people’s safety and privacy, all members of the peer support group will use pseudonyms and only the counsellor facilitating the group will be aware of their true identities. Google+ killed off its real name policy back in July
In a statement Kids Helpline said the counsellor will help to encourage healthy conversations and a 24/7 monitoring system will alert Kids Helpline if there is any social media communication that signals they should intervene to prevent self-harm.
Last year, there were almost 390,000 attempts to reach Kids Helpline counsellors via telephone and online, but the organisation is only able to service approximately 60% of online contacts and phone calls received each year.
For more information visit https://www.kidshelp.com.au or call 1800 55 1800.