Kooth’s transformative impact on digital youth mental health services 

Kooth’s transformative impact on digital youth mental health services 

In this exclusive interview, we hear from Kate Newhouse, COO at Kooth. A pioneer for digital mental health support, Kooth’s honourable mission has excelled in achieving life-changing support for young people across the UK and the US. Newhouse speaks on the importance of equity in mental health support, Kooth’s current projects and their key responsibilities in the critical role of COO. 

Kate Newhouse, COO at Kooth

Can you elaborate on Kooth’s mission and how it aims to provide accessible and safe spaces for better mental health, especially for under 18s? 

Mental health care is not a privilege, but a fundamental human right. Which is why the purpose that underpins everything Kooth does is the belief that every individual deserves access to quality mental health support services.  

Quite simply, equity of access to mental health support is not merely a concept, but a reality we should proactively strive towards in every society. However, having available resources is not enough. Equity of access needs to be supplemented with equity of awareness. Too often, those seeking support are left in the dark regarding the mental health resources that are available to them. At Kooth we aim to change this. 

For the last 20 years, Kooth has been a leading pioneer in youth-focused digital mental health care and support. We provide innovative, digital, research-based, person-centred mental health support to young people in the UK in partnership with the NHS, Local Authorities, and other Health and Social Care providers. We are the largest provider to the NHS for digital mental health services and the largest contributor to the NHS’s Mental Health Services Data Set (MHSDS). Kooth is the longest standing digital health provider to be accredited by the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). 

Covering over 15 million people internationally, our sole purpose is to create easy-to-access online mental health services that work alongside those in need, providing compassionate and effective support. Today, over 7.9 million 10–25-year-olds in the UK alone have free access to Kooth in the UK, with 1-in-36 of that population using Kooth last year.  

Furthermore, we are rapidly expanding across the US. We have recently launched our Soluna app with the State of California to support all 13-25 year olds (~6 million population) and are delivering support across the State of Pennsylvania for 11-18 year olds. 

Kooth’s aim is to deliver equitable, appropriate and timely services to those who need them the most.  

To achieve this, Kooth’s technology platform has been developed with four key design principles:  

No barriers to access: Individuals can sign-up without having to be referred by a professional. There are no thresholds or waiting lists.  

De-stigmatisation: Stigma is still a barrier in seeking help. To tackle this, Kooth is ‘anonymous-by-default’. Individuals do not need to provide personal identifiable information to join the service but may do so as they build their confidence and trust with practitioners.  

Choice, not prescription: To make a positive change in a person’s life, it is important to empower them. Encouraging our service users to be part of the decision-making process helps to determine what help may be most appropriate. This is achieved by delivering a range of integrated tools and therapies. So we blend immediate online access to experienced counsellors and wellbeing practitioners through 1-2-1 chat and messaging functionality, alongside digital self-help tools. For example: 

  1. Therapeutic content and activities: Every week, our community submits over 100 ‘lived experience’ articles to our moderation team for publication. This is in addition to content we publish across a range of over 70 subject areas.  
  1. Peer-support community: Users can get help from others in the Kooth community, providing a positive peer support space.  

Professional support: Kooth provides access to emotional wellbeing and counselling support. We provide responsive (drop in) chat, asynchronous messaging support, structured counselling (typically 6-12 sessions), and ongoing support. This is delivered as a live text chat through the Kooth platform.  
Safe space: In addition to robust safety protocols to support individuals in crisis, or at risk, Kooth ensures that all content created for publication published by individuals on the Kooth platform is pre-moderated by our clinical team for safety and appropriateness, which means nothing is published to our site without being reviewed by a human according to our moderation governance framework. In the last year, the team moderated over 500,000 posts, journals and comments from the Kooth community.
As the Chief Operating Officer at Kooth, could you share insights into the key responsibilities and challenges you encounter in overseeing the operational aspects of a global leader in youth digital mental well-being?
My overarching responsibility is two-fold. First to ensure that we deliver against our mission. Central to this is having the right people in the right roles delivering their best work to enable them to effectively support our Kooth community.
Secondly, that Kooth successfully communicates the benefits of our service so that no young person is left without accessible, early help and support.
It would be fair to say that building a welcoming, effective service is one half of the challenge. The other half is building a sustainable model to grow awareness and truly embed this service into the local community. Kooth has extensive experience in building and delivering engagement programmes to reach the whole population – through both digital an ‘feet on the street’ engagement teams.  
For example, in the UK Kooth has dedicated community outreach and engagement teams which work with schools, healthcare systems, and local communities. In fact, we have found that over half of people join Kooth after hearing about it at school, 15% from a healthcare professional and 10% from a friend. As 94% of children and young people who use Kooth would recommend it to a friend, peer support and advocacy is an important element for success.

What specific aspects of Kooth’s mission resonate with your personal passions and drive your commitment to contributing to the company’s objectives? 
For the last twenty years, I’ve been working across health and local government systems in various guises to provide more equitable and appropriate care that is designed around the service user and harnesses the power of digital to drive innovation and achieve more reach and impact. 
My commitment at Kooth is to keep innovating and developing pioneering services that are actually based on youth needs and wants rather than what the system provides or thinking there is a one-size fits all approach. Using digital tools and a population health-based approach that is coupled with free at the point of access aligns to my drive of ensuring we can continue to maximise the reach of the Kooth platform. Only then will we have the positive impact of equity of access and awareness that is needed, globally.  
Given Kooth’s accreditation from the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), how does the platform ensure clinical robustness in providing therapeutic support and interventions? 
As part of Kooth’s focus on ensuring its work is safe and evidence-based, we operate a system of improved reporting and root cause analysis. This helps the team to identify earlier on any opportunities for improvement and learning. 
To deliver a continuous improvement model, the i-RESPOND framework is fully embedded into our quarterly audit process for each practitioner – offering all practitioners the opportunity for individual professional development, delivering important learnings for the wider clinical team, and identifying areas of focus for training programmes as well as an enhanced offering for clinical supervision and support.  
With the recent launch of the Soluna app in California, how does the platform meet the mental health needs of the state’s 13-25 year olds? 

Soluna offers California’s six million 13-25 year olds free access to one-to-one professional support, self-guided tools, content and activities, and peer support communities moderated by trained behavioural health professionals. Soluna provides professional coaching support in English and Spanish as well as telephone-based support in all 19 Medi-Cal threshold languages. 
We do it all safely and securely through a mobile phone. Available through iOS and Android apps, Soluna users can access many features anonymously – self-guided tools, guides, resources, exercises, and games – or create a full account to access professional or peer support.  
Soluna is part of a groundbreaking initiative spearheaded by mental health and wellness champion California Gov. Gavin Newsom, The Children and Youth Behavioral Health Initiative (CYBHI). It’s a historic, five-year, US$4.7 billion initiative to completely transform the way California supports children, youth, and families. With a strong foundation of equity and accessibility, it’s built to meet young people and families where they are, helping them when, where and in the manner, they need it most.  
Considering Kooth’s status as the largest single access provider for mental health support for under 18s, what future plans does the company have for expanding its reach and impact in the field of youth mental well-being?
As a social impact business, our purpose is to help tackle the growing global youth mental health challenge. Which is why our mission is to ensure anyone can access help when they need it.  

Beyond the US and UK, our long term ambition is to work with healthcare operators in other geographies to help deliver behavioural health and wellness tools. Ultimately to ensure that when someone needs mental health support, they can get the help they need when they need it.

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