Ensuring Mental Wellbeing Online
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Ensuring Mental Wellbeing Online:
World’s first guidelines for online safety – the Risk Awareness and Management Programme – is launched in London
“A fifteen year old girl tries to diet but finds herself bingeing soon afterwards. Ashamed, and even more concerned about how this will affect her weight, she searches for help online, but finds a ‘pro-mia’ website. Or a fifty-three year old man, faced with redundancy, wonders how he will manage without his work and income. Too ashamed to talk to his wife or his GP, he enters a forum for those suffering from depression, but instead of support, he finds aggressive interactions and accounts of self-harm.”
Few could doubt that today, online experiences have a substantial influence on overall wellbeing, often for the better, but sometimes – if the appropriate safeguards aren’t in place – with potentially damaging consequences. For the first time, leading figures from the health sector have joined forces with industry leaders, charities and other online organisations from around the world to develop a set of guidelines that will inform the provision of online services to ensure that vulnerable audiences can surf the net safely. The Risk Awareness and Management Programme (RAMP) is the first of its kind and demonstrates a growing acknowledgement by the industry that the interests and safety of its users must be prioritised.
Highlighting the importance of safety and responsible communications online, this new framework is designed to help organisations optimise communications with visitors, particularly those seeking online support. The first phase of the guidelines has now been published, following extensive consultation, offering an international standard in best practice procedures to preserve online safety.
Demand for the RAMP guidelines couldn’t be more acute. Today, over 2 billion people around the world regularly use the internet (compared to 361 million ten years ago), whilst mobile phone use has risen from 907 million to 5 billion subscribers. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the internet is the first port of call for information, particularly for mental health information, support and advice; where people are more reluctant to approach their GP in the first instance.
Yet research carried out by Ofcom in 2010 has shown that 26% of adults using online search engines simply accepted their search findings as accurate, regardless of the provenance and quality of the information. For the vulnerable – as well as those on lower incomes or new to the internet – this figure rises to 38% demonstrating a worrying trend that the public is increasingly unquestionably trusting of online information.
Dr Rachel O’Connell, Principal Author of the RAMP guidelines and a government advisor on online safety says:
“This is the first initiative of its kind, focused on helping organisations harness technology to ensure best in practice, safe access to online support services. The Risk Awareness and Management Programme takes the guesswork out of knowing what steps organisations need to take to ensure people have a safe experience using online services. In developing the guidelines, we have worked with major international corporations such as Facebook and Vodafone, as well as leading figures from the Health Service, charities and other organisations. It is a pan-industry collaboration which reflects the recognition that the internet is an indispensible source of support with the security and regulation of all access and content of paramount importance.”
Co-Author, Dr Richard Graham, Consultant Psychiatrist and Clinical Director of the Adolescent Directorate of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust, who also founded the UK’s first dedicated Technology Addiction Service at Capio Nightingale Hospital in 2010 says:
“Having tried for some years to help those who have suffered from the often alarming consequences of online activity, I am delighted that this collaborative initiative has succeeded in producing a guide that can truly minimise the risks associated with accessing support services online. Negotiating the digital world is challenging for us all; RAMP makes it easier, such that the risks do not spoil the wonderful opportunities.”
Co-Author, Jane Chapman, Governance and Risk Adviser, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust says:
"This has been an excellent opportunity to build on work developed in other sectors to provide a simple but comprehensive way of identifying and managing risks that are inherent in the use of online well-being services. In practice use of this programme will enable providers to reassure themselves that they have built into systems many ways to reduce risks, and new risks identified by using the programme approach can be addressed with simple changes to the product and its presentation to the user."Tweet