Starship launches support tool to address youth mental health

Starship, and the Starship Foundation in partnership with ASB, launch a new communications app to help address the growing mental health needs of New Zealand young people.

Called Village, the app is designed to help rangatahi (young people) aged 13 to 25 take control of their mental well-being by connecting users with a network of trusted individuals, friends or whānau, called “buddies”. 

Founded on the premise that it takes a village to raise a child, the innovative app was co-designed by New Zealand rangatahi and whānau. 

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, admissions of children and adolescents to hospital following self-harm events have increased by 25 per cent in the 15-19 year age group and 50 per cent in the 10-14 year age group.  Over 5,600 young people presented to hospital emergency departments around the country with self-harm in 2021 alone. 

“Our rangatahi are experiencing increasing rates of mental distress, depression and self-harm,” says Starship Child Psychiatrist and Paediatrician Dr Hiran Thabrew, the app’s clinical lead. “They often struggle to express emotions or reach out to whānau or peers for help, instead resorting to maladaptive coping strategies such as self-harm.”

“When rangatahi do seek help, they are increasingly relying on social media, digital tools and emergency care,” adds Dr Thabrew, who’s also an e-health researcher at the University of Auckland.

“Based on proven principles of e-health, peer support, and whānau ora (family well-being) in reducing suicide, the app is a non-threatening means for rangatahi to obtain regular and real-time support from buddies who are guided by the app about how to best respond to their needs,” says Dr Thabrew. 

Keira Arnold, 18, who has struggled with mental health issues most of her life, participated in the app’s clinical trial. She found Village reinforced the skills she learnt through Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).

“I’ve always had trouble reaching out to those around me when I was feeling really low,” says Keira.

I found the app was an easy and stress-free way to connect with friends and family. By tailoring messages for me, Village helped me find the words to communicate how I was feeling.”

As well as funding projects in the hospital, the Starship Foundation also invests in projects and initiatives to keep young people out of hospital and thriving in their communities.

“With alarming numbers of rangatahi admitted to hospital for self-harm, we wanted to find a way to help be part of the solution,” says Starship Foundation Chief Executive Aisha Daji Punga.

“Together with funding from our Five Star Partner ASB and support from Datacom, we were able to fund the research and development to bring this innovative app to life,” adds Aisha. “We aim to help young rangatahi make trusted connections and to know it’s okay to talk about your emotions. Ultimately, we hope it will help keep our rangatahi out of hospital.”

ASB has partnered with the Starship Foundation and supported a wide variety of initiatives over three decades. CEO Vittoria Shortt says, “Being there for New Zealand youth and particularly those experiencing mental distress is something we at ASB feel passionate about, and it is meaningful to me as a Mum of two teenagers. 

“The need for youth mental health support is greater than ever and we hope Village will make a real, tangible difference in the lives of our young people and their whānau.” 

The app underwent a robust co-design process involving New Zealand young people and families over six months. A working prototype was developed and then evaluated via a clinical trial at Auckland DHB.

Village is free to download here as well as from Google Play or the App store.

Where to get help – these free helplines operate 24/7:

  • Need to talk? – call or text 1737 
  • Youthline: 0800 376 633 or text 234
  • Lifeline:  0800 543 354Suicide crisis helpline: 0508 828 865
  • Depression helpline – 0800 111 757 or free text 4202
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