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Meet Ollee: the digital friend boosting children’s mental health and emotional wellbeing

Across the UK, over 1 million children already have a diagnosable mental health condition, and that number is only likely to rise. The recent pandemic has created new cases of anxiety, depression, trauma and complex bereavement.

It’s a difficult situation, but it’s not hopeless. With funding from BBC Children in Need, local charities and organisations are finding innovative ways to tackle what many are calling a crisis in children’s mental health and emotional wellbeing.

Parent Zone is just one of those organisations. They exist to improve outcomes for children in a digital world – so that children can be safer, resilient and educated for a digital future.

With funding from BBC Children in Need, they’ve created a brand-new app, called Ollee.

Ollee phone app
Ollee phone app

“Ollee is a digital friend that supports parent and child communication, particularly around what can be difficult topics,” says Lucy, Partnerships Manager at Parent Zone.

“Ollee supports a child’s and a family’s emotional wellbeing by promoting discussion and enabling children to express themselves. It’s designed to help children reflect on how they feel.”

So how does it work?

First, children pick a subject they want to talk about. Then, they choose an emotion they are feeling. It could be worried, stressed, happy, confused, or another emotion.

With prompts such as, “I feel lonely”, “no one listens to me” or “I am being bullied”, Ollee then gives children supportive advice about that subject and how they feel.

“Ollee also offers ways to deal with challenging and overwhelming emotions,” says Lucy, “if a child is unsure how they are feeling, Ollee offers suggestions and advice to help them figure it out.”

The app also encourages parents and guardians to share Ollee’s advice and talk about feelings together through connected accounts.

But first and foremost, Ollee is for children. They’ve even been involved in its development.

“It’s vital that children’s voices are at the heart of everything we do, so we’re always looking at different ways of involving children in the project.”

Through regular workshops with parents and schools, Parent Zone host fun activities with children to help inspire the content in the app.

“At a recent workshop, we asked Year Four pupils to draw an Ollee for a specific emotion,” says Lucy, “we can then use these to help inform the graphics within Ollee. One of my favourites was a picture of Ollee feeling scared with butterflies in its tummy.”

Illustration of Ollee
Illustration of Ollee

So far, Ollee has proved popular with families, receiving over 1,000 downloads in one day. The positive impact is already starting to show.

“We know that after using Ollee, children are more able to reflect on and communicate their feelings,” says Lucy, “one parent said the app gave their child a greater understanding that they don’t need to be perfect all the time.”

With a recent 77% rise in the number of children needing specialist treatment for severe mental health crisis, this early preventative support couldn’t be more timely.

“Statistics from organisations such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists show that record numbers of children and young people are being referred to mental health services,” says Lucy, “and without funding from BBC Children in Need, projects like Ollee quite simply wouldn’t exist.”

Ollee app
Ollee app

Ollee is part of a multiyear grant funded through BBC Children in Need’s A Million & Me programme. That means Parent Zone have not only been able to create Ollee in the first place, but they can now continue to change and improve the app, making it even more supportive for children who are struggling.

“To all those who raise money for BBC Children in Need – thank you so much, we are hugely grateful! In the words of an eight-year-old: ‘Ollee makes this world a better place’ – and if that’s not a reason to keep doing what we’re doing, I don’t know what is!”

The Ollee app is free to download and available on Apple and Android devices. If you’d like to download Ollee, you can find out how here

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