Online bullying can be traumatic. This is especially true for young people who often are reluctant to seek help when targeted or harassed, leaving themselves open to potential mental health issues. But an Australia-based group hopes to change that with a free mobile app called Goalzie.
Goalzie is part of a four-year online campaign to improve the attitudes and behaviors of young people between the ages of 12-25 toward the “key issues they face, which might lead to poor mental health,” said Barbara Spears, a professor of education at the University of South Australia.
“It is about changing behaviors and learning from the patterns which become more established,” she said.
Launched by international research group Young and Well CRC as a collaboration with several partners, including the University of South Australia, Goalzie was co-developed and co-designed with participation from young people. Spears said the process “helped to ensure that Goalzie resonated well with young people and authentically reflected youth culture and online practices.”
The app lets young people seek help on their social networks and among friends and leads them to additional information and professional assistance along the way. It challenges its users to team up to set goals. And they can follow up with lighthearted, funny consequences if the goals are not met.
“Our intention with Goalzie was to leverage the online space and take important messages about wellbeing and help-seeking to young people in the places they regularly frequent and in ways that align with their online behaviors,” said Spears, … “hence the messaging around goal-setting and connecting with peers and help-seeking.”
Young people typically do not reach for help. Spears said this is either because they feel uncomfortable doing so or because they think they should solve their own problems. “This is a natural part of adolescence and learning to be an adult.”
Talking about problems “is a coping mechanism,” said Spears, and only part of the issue because “taking the step and seeking help is the next and most difficult aspect for young people.”
Included in the Goalzie app is a research component that allows researchers “to capture a representative sample of young people’s current state of wellbeing before exposure to the app, and follow up with a second survey after they have seen it.”
The information helped analysts map young people’s actual engagement with the app, said Spears, and will also help them improve the process further in the future. “It will provide important opportunities for examining how young people are engaging with mental health support apps and websites,” she said.
Once data analysis is complete, it will be published in a report due for release in the middle of the year.
Researchers do not expect immediate results because behavioral and attitudinal change typically is a long-term process. But Spears said that is what Goalzie hopes to accomplish.
“The app is designed to specifically encourage young people to practice setting goals in a fun way so that when they need to, they will have learned from the experience that reaching out to others is possible and achieves something positive.”