MyTeen-Increasing competence and mental health literacy

A mobile-based intervention to support parents of teenagers

Dr Joanna Ting Wai Chu
University of Auckland

In 2017, Cure Kids collaborated on a joint, contestable funding round with The National Science Challenge, A Better Start. The aim of the partnership was to fund high-quality, mission-led research focused on child and youth well-being, specifically in the areas of childhood obesity, early literacy and learning, mental health problems, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In July 2017, ten projects were funded across the four specific areas.


What is the problem and who does it affect?

New Zealand has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the developed world. These tragedies are borne disproportionately by Maori and Pacific adolescents and their families. Despite how ubiquitous mental health issues are, there remain knowledge inequities and under treatment which further add to the problem.

There is increasing evidence that interventions which are targeted at strengthening parenting skills, and increasing their knowledge on teenage development, can have significant benefits on the parent-adolescent relationship, while also reducing problem behaviours.


What is this project hoping to achieve?

Dr Joanna Ting Wai Chu is leading the project that will harness the widespread use of smartphones to develop an SMS-based mobile intervention aimed at promoting confidence and mental health literacy for parents of adolescents.

Before being tested, the app will be developed in consultation with end-users. It is critical for uptake of any app that those using it are involved in the development. This will help ensure the app has cut-through with the relevant audiences, and ultimately will determine its success.

The app will then be tested in a randomised controlled trial to measure its acceptability, effectiveness and cost-effectiveness in a sample of parents of 12-15 year olds. The team will recruit 214 parents, half of which will be randomly placed in the intervention group and half experiencing care-as-usual.

The hypothesis is that those receiving the intervention will, at one and three months’ follow-up, exhibit improved knowledge of mental health, less parental distress, better parent-child communication and overall satisfaction with the programme.

The support of parents to countenance difficult mental health issues with their teens is of paramount importance. The study addresses the need to provide parents with the tools and knowledge needed to be able to respond with competence and confidence, and to promote positive well-being in their children.