Children with depression will be able to access NHS-backed therapy via their smartphones, under new guidance.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) has recommended digital cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) as a treatment for children and young people aged five to 18 who are suffering from mild depression.
GPs will be able to recommend digital CBT programmes, which can be accessed via smartphones, computers and tablets.
Modules may include writing down feelings, answering questions to identify dysfunctional thinking and tasks to help challenge negative thoughts.
Other modules might look at developing coping strategies, setting goals and finding ways to improve self esteem.
The evidence showed digital CBT and group therapy were most effective at reducing depressive symptoms and we have recommend these as first-line options for children and young people with mild depression Paul Chrisp, Nice
Some programmes alert children identified as having potentially suicidal thoughts to go back to their doctor or counsellor for more help.
Nice said digital CBT can help cut waiting lists and give children and young people faster access to treatment.
It is recommending the therapy in draft guidance for children with continuing symptoms of mild depression who do not have other significant health conditions or suicidal thoughts.
Group CBT is also recommended in the guidelines as an option and doctors are told to take account of the child’s or carer’s preferences.
Paul Chrisp, director of the centre for guidelines at Nice, said: “In this update to our depression in children guideline, we reviewed evidence for the most effective psychological interventions for children and young people with depression.
“The guideline update emphasises the importance of a child or young person’s personal choice when receiving treatment for depression.
“We want to ensure children are offered a range of therapies to suit their needs and individual preferences are placed at the heart of their care.
“The evidence showed digital CBT and group therapy were most effective at reducing depressive symptoms and we have recommend these as first-line options for children and young people with mild depression.”
Claire Murdoch, NHS England’s national mental health director, said: “Given how quickly technology is constantly evolving and the fact that young people are usually at the forefront of this change, updating this draft guidance is another step forward.
“Digital and online interventions can play an effective and important role in treatment, particularly when backed up by face-to-face support, and the NHS long-term plan makes clear that the health service will continue to look to harness the benefits these advancements can bring.”
Dr Bernadka Dubicka, chairwoman of the child and adolescent faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said: “We know there is a huge demand for treatment, and digital CBT can be one option amongst others.
“Some young people may find this approach very helpful, but it is important that other options are available as some young people may prefer to have face-to-face treatment.”
Digital CBT is already recommended for adults with mild to moderate depression.
Royal College of Nursing professional lead for children and young people, Fiona Smith, said: “Tackling depression and mental health at the earliest possible stage is vitally important.
“We know that technology can play a vital role in engaging with young people and the recommendations are a welcome step.
“Such technology, however, should not be seen as a way of filling in for the damaging cuts to the part of the nursing workforce that works directly with children and their families, including mental health nurses and those who work with children and young people to improve their health.”