Helping you get through tough times

Researching online help-seeking

It’s been an absolute joy having researcher Claudette as part of the team on Secondment (Fancy work experience) at ReachOut HQ as part of her PhD. Here Claudette breaks down her research and explains what it could mean for services like ReachOut in the future…

Cement planter decorated wit yellow arrows

I’d like you to think about the last time you had a health concern, what was the first thing you did?….For most of us, the first port of call is to go to Google. We put in our symptoms and try and find the best course of action or remedy. It’s no different for concerns relating to our mental health.

Looking for help online

The stat going round is that 1 in 4 of us are likely to be struggling with an issue related to poor mental health. This is represented in our online searches. All around the world, every day people are searching for information on things such as ‘depression’, ‘why am I so sad’ and ’why am I sad every day’. Online help-seeking is often the first step in the help-seeking process. This is because most people feel that the internet is a safe and anonymous resource. It’s also instant and free. For most of us, if we have a positive online help-seeking experience it will encourage future help-seeking.

Understanding help-seeking

My research will focus on understanding young people’s online help-seeking behaviours for mental health difficulties. The aim of my project will be to develop a tool to help young people get the necessary help for mental health concerns, relative to their level of need.

A new tool

We foresee the tool working in the following way: the first step will be for young people to identify issues they are struggling with, such as feelings of sadness, struggling to sleep or concentrate. They will then rate how severely these issues are impacting on their lives. The tool will then make recommendations relative to their need, which could range from reading age appropriate materials online, watching a YouTube video, being referred to an online or face-to-face service such as NiteLine or Jigsaw. My research aims to get young people the get appropriate help relative to their level of need online.

My research

In order to develop this tool, it is important that I gather the necessary requirement for the tool from young people themselves. I am to do this through an online survey (currently running), focus groups, co-design workshops (working together with young people to design how the tool should look, work and feel) as well as piloting the tool with young people on a recurring basis.

Get involved

I have found that regular conversations with young people around issues of mental health have proven very useful in staying grounded in the real world and that the development of this tool is not just purely academic. If you’re interested in being involved in the research or tracking my developments, please do follow me on Twitter (@DettePretorius) or get in touch via email:

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