Interviews with specialists:

Tim Smeets:

What level of education do you have in this sector?

I have a University degree in psychology

What experience do you have in treating people with mental health conditions? 

I have been working at ISH for 8 years supporting students as a counselor, before that I worked for 5 years as an individual support worker for children with various psychological and behavioural disorders (ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Borderline, trauma, etc.) and 3 years as a counselor for University students with an ASD diagnosis. 

From your personal experience, what is roughly the age that most people develop mental health issues?

That very much depends on the presenting mental health issue. Sometimes people are born with mental health issues that stay with them for their entire life (for example: ADHD, ASD) and can learn to cope and deal with, whilst sometimes it happens or develops at a later age (Anxiety, Depression, etc.). For example, depression most commonly first starts to develop in adolescence, but can develop earlier or later depending on personal circumstances. Generally various mental health issues tend to show or worsen during adolescence/early 20’s as this is a period where the brain chemistry and hormonal balance is fluctuating a lot. 

Are mental health issues most common in females or male?

Again, I think it really depends on the mental health issue. I do feel it seems to present more in females, but I also think that females are more prone to and find it easier to talk about things that they are experiencing, whilst males tend to be more closed off (this is generalizing of course, and does not apply on an individual basis.).

Do you think that mental health websites are beneficial for people that are struggling with these problems? 

I think they definitely can be beneficial! But with so many things, it’s about finding the website that works best for you. 

How do you help someone overcome what they are going through?

It can be really difficult to help someone who is struggling. Often we tend to want to “fix” the situation for them, because we don’t like to see them having a difficult time. Unfortunately it tends not to work that way. I feel the best way to support someone is to do a couple of small things:

  • Be patient
  • Listen to them
  • Don’t be judgemental
  • Be honest and genuine, don’t make promises you can’t follow through on.
  • Respect your own boundaries: you’re a friend, not a therapist.
  • Ask questions 
  • Help them find professional support if they continue to struggle

How do you know if someone is struggling with a mental health disorder?

You can ask them. Usually there are some behavioural changes that you notice (for example: more easily agitated, more emotional. Or the opposite, more distant, more closed off). Name/state what you see and ask how they are. For example: “I’m noticing that you’re more distant lately and seem to be more negative in your outlook, how are you doing?”

How can you improve someone’s mental well being?

Again, I think that is truly something only that person can do themselves if they want to. What you can do to help them with it is to do those things listed above. Listen to them and be a sounding board for them. Often people have their own solutions, they need some help organising their thoughts and ideas. Sometimes it can help to go and do something active/outside together. 

And lastly, any tips for people that will be visiting the “BottyMentalHealth” website?

I’ve had a look and think it’s a wonderful website. I really like Botty, I think it’s a really user friendly addition! 

My tip would be to stay calm, if you’re looking for support you’re already doing the right thing. Be kind to yourself and allow yourself not to be perfect. Nobody is.

Thank you very much for your time!


Helen Melville-Kenney:

What level of education do you have in this sector?

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Master’s Degree in Social Work.

What experience do you have in treating people with mental health conditions? 

I have worked as a school counsellor at ISH for six years (since May 2013).  Prior to that, I was a social worker in the UK.

From your personal experience, what is roughly the age that most people develop mental health issues?

This is a difficult question to answer, because mental health issues are very complex, and the early stages are difficult to identify, particularly in younger children.  There are also some mental health diagnoses that are usually not given until a person is an adult (EG borderline personality disorder)

In my experience, a significant number of issues, if not the majority, begin to develop during the teenage years and adolescence.  Mental health issues that are a response to life events (EG trauma) can of course happen at any time.

Are mental health issues most common in females or male?

Females are more likely to access support for mental health issues than males.  In school we definitely see more female students accessing support from our department than male students.  However, this may not be because females experience more mental health issues, but because there are other barriers that prevent males from accessing support, for example beliefs that “big boys don’t cry” and “men should be strong”.

There are differences in the rates of different mental health diagnoses between males and females.  For example, more females than males are diagnosed with depression and more males than females are diagnosed with alcoholism.

It has been suggested that doctors are more likely to diagnose females with mental health issues, even when they have the same symptoms as males.

Do you think that mental health websites are beneficial for people that are struggling with these problems? 

Yes!  As with all internet use, everyone should make sure that they are accessing factual information and that the advice they’re accessing comes from a reputable, professional and reliable source.  There are loads of great resources available online that can be really beneficial.

How do you help someone overcome what they are going through?

As a school counsellor I provide a safe space for students to express themselves and talk through what they’re experiencing, and then work with them to identify possible solutions and ways forward.  Exactly what that means, really depends on what the student wants and needs.  I always try to tailor my approach to the specific needs of the individual, as everyone is different and there is no “one size fits all” approach.  For me, my main task as a counsellor is to develop a trusting relationship with the student, so that the student and I can work together to identify what’s going well, what’s not going well and what they want/need to change.  After that, we start working on practical strategies and ideas for how to make those changes and what extra support they need to make those changes (EG support from me, their parents, their teachers, mental health professionals from outside school, etc).

How do you know if someone is struggling with a mental health disorder?

Often the first sign will be a significant change in a person.  For example, someone who has always been very outgoing and chatty, might start to become very withdrawn and quiet.  Often when a person’s behaviour and mood changes, it’s an indication that something else has changed.

I quite like this infographic as a summary of some things that might indicate that someone is struggling with their mental health:

How can you improve someone’s mental well being?

As I said in my answer above, at the heart of counselling is the relationship you have with the person.  So, to improve someone’s mental well being, you need a good relationship with them, which means listening to them, trying to understand them, not judging or making assumptions about what they’re experiencing, being trustworthy, respecting them as an individual and standing by them even when things are tough.

Once you have that relationship with someone, you can start to think about solutions and ways to make the changes that they want/need in their lives.  You can improve someone’s well being by allowing them space to explore what they’re experiencing, helping them understand it, and giving them tools and strategies to manage their situation, including helping them to find more specialised professional help if they need it.

The person also needs to be ready, willing and able to work to make changes for themselves, albeit with support and not on their own.

And lastly, any tips for people that will be visiting the “BottyMentalHealth” website?

Never be afraid to ask for help if you think that you are struggling with a issue!

Thank you very much for your time!


Simon Teal:

What level of education do you have in this sector?

I have a Bachelor’s in Science (Psychology) and a Masters in Counselling.

What experience do you have in treating people with mental health conditions? 

2 years working in a psychiatric hospital working with clients with Alcohol dependency and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD.

3 years working in a psychiatric hospital working in an Adolescent acute admissions ward.

2 years working with drug dependent clients.

3 years working as a community outreach worker (visiting people with mental health challenges in their home.

2 Years running a private practice counselling service.

From your personal experience, what is roughly the age that most people develop mental health issues?

People can develop mental health issues at any age. I would say the first signs of mental health issues usually show up in the teenage years.

Are mental health issues most common in females or male?

This is a difficult question to answer. I would say both Male and Females are impacted by mental health issues. Some Men find it difficult to talk about so do not get help (this is part of the reason that suicide is more common in men).

Do you think that mental health websites are beneficial for people that are struggling with these problems? 

I think they are. Any way that people can get information and make sense of their experience is a positive. Websites are also nice and easy to access (as opposed to talking to someone). I think it’s a great first step for people to take.

How do you help someone overcome what they are going through?

I think the biggest thing is giving someone the space to talk with another human being about what they are experiencing. When people are struggling with their mental health it is easy for them to get lost in their head, being able to share their experience with another person is very powerful. Often if you give people the space to talk about their problems they work out the issue themselves (this is called self-actualizing). I also think it’s very important to be aware of the patterns of thinking we experience. If we have a pattern of thinking which says “you’re a loser” it can negatively affect you. As such I think being able to notice unhelpful thoughts and step back from them is very helpful. 

How do you know if someone is struggling with a mental health disorder?

The most useful definition of a mental disorder is if it is having a negative impact on your life. For example if you’re not able to maintain a job or friendships or do the things that are important to you. If I talk with people who are saying that they are so anxious they can’t talk to anyone and feel lonely, I would define this as a problem, 

How can you improve someone’s mental well being?

Reconnecting to what is important to you is vital. Living a meaningful life means doing things that are important to you, fill your life with things that bring you meaning.  Identifying less with difficult thoughts is also an important step, so we don’t listen to everything that is going on in our heads. Also an acceptance that difficult emotional states are part of the human experience and that if we are sad/angry/anxious sometimes that is ok. Also basic things like sleeping well, eating healthy and exercise are super important to mental health.

And lastly, any tips for people that will be visiting the “BottyMentalHealth” website?

It’s ok to experience difficult emotions. You can’t be happy all the time so go easy on yourself if you’re feeling sad/angry/anxious this is all part of being human!

Thank you very much for your time!


Massimiliano Falcinelli:

What level of education do you have in this sector?
I have a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a master’s degree in Telecommunication Engineering and 20 years of work experience.

What experience do you have in technical innovation and making websites?

I started to build websites at the beginning of the internet era, when there was the possibility to build only static websites. After that I started to work with other specialists to build dynamic websites using specific technologies such as PHP, ASP and python. The usage of languages to make a website dynamic has dramatically changed the way the internet became a real communication medium. At the moment I am in charge of the innovation of the whole IT infrastructure of an important international organization (EMA).

What makes a website successful?

My opinion is that what makes a website successful is the UX (user experience) and the UI (user interface).  Both need to be simple and efficient. In addition it is extremely important that the website is based on a strong and verified set of data.  Today it’s becoming relevant to the usage of AI (Artificial intelligence) and data discovery services.

What are the best tools and apps to create websites?

There are today plenty of frameworks that help a web designer and a web programmer to build a website and to interact with each other. As an example we can mention the usage of wordpress and its integration with PHP (Hypertext Preprocessor) to consume APIs (application programming interface) offered by external services (e.g. google maps).

How do you make a website professional?

As I mentioned above the UI and UX are really important. A user should be able to use and to obtain results (e.g. search functionalities) easily. In addition it is important that a website offers exactly the services that users want to consume without confusion.
All the characteristics (e.g. logo, fonts, colors, size) need to be studied in an exact way. All the services (e.g. databases, searches, interaction with the users) need to be designed to be performant and efficient.  

What do I need to do to redesign my website to make it’s best version?

You should review the bot and the contacts part and you should offer more specific services probably exploring collaboration with other institutions.

You should add a section about exercises that can help people with generic mental issues.

And lastly, any tips for people that will be visiting the “BottyMentalHealth” website?

Start using the bot and see where you are redirected to better understand which your main issue is. 

Thank you very much for your time!

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1dQxEPHSYGmghodBJLvooPfNSXdW4YJbR1jiRzbZJBv0/edit?usp=sharing

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1sr1eDeygwtHJAOXgjF9OE-9HOFV0JtzO8YH7I6yWkbE/edit?usp=sharing

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1fUaIbl2I3EZxURB3p5P9ZRGpzSs1wYcJS4OEZG1iCM4/edit?usp=sharing

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1sH9_HQJR9knRkFt5f3Din28RHztoMttRDT9Rlc9Fdow/edit?usp=sharing