Country Kids Building Young and Well Towns in South Australia

The Young and Well CRC has joined with Flinders University and Country Health SA to create Young and Well Towns, a new multi-million dollar initiative that will focus on young people in country South Australia who are at risk due to their geographic isolation by ramping up engagement with online mental health resources at a local level.

Young and Well CRC CEO Associate Professor Jane Burns said recent data highlights the extent to which the wellbeing of young people living in regional and rural areas is of major concern. ‘The latest Young and Well National Survey found 16% of young people in rural and regional areas aged between 16 and 25 felt their life was hardly worth living, and that 15% thought that they would be better off dead. This is completely unacceptable. We are currently faced with a situation where 46% of young people in rural and regional areas are experiencing moderate to very high levels of psychological distress and we need to create new, innovative ways of improving wellbeing. With figures showing 99% of young people in country areas are online, there is an unprecedented opportunity to harness this engagement and widely promote the resources and support that is readily available online, anytime, anywhere.’

The Young and Well Towns project will work with young people to understand barriers to help-seeking and develop e-mental health training programs to promote better use of existing digital resources in the country. Working with health services, schools, and community centres, the project will examine whether this leads to an increase in country areas access to online health and wellbeing websites.

‘Young people in Australia are faced with mental health challenges, however access to information and services can be particularly difficult for those living in country areas. Rural towns such as Murray Bridge are the perfect starting point for this research into how technology can be used to help overcome the stigma and embarrassment that can be a real barrier to people seeking help in country areas. It will also help us to see if we can overcome issues around limited professional services, long waiting times, choice of health care providers, travelling times,’ A/Prof Burns said.

Chief Investigator Professor Malcolm Battersby, Head of Psychiatry at Flinders University and Director of the Flinders Human Behaviour and Health Research Unit, said the overarching aim of the project was to increase and improve access to support by breaking down barriers, including service limitations, confidentiality concerns and transportation issues. ‘Young people in rural areas are often reluctant to seek help because they don’t want their friends or family to find out through town gossip, and being in the country they also face difficulties travelling to the few services available to them. While online health resources can be really valuable in addressing choice limitations and confidentiality concerns, there’s a general lack of awareness among young people about the benefits of internet interventions and support. Many service providers are also limited in their capacity to use technology to engage with young people, which is why it’s important to come up with innovative way of reaching out to young people and those who work with young people.’

Country Health SA Local Health Network Executive Director Mental Health Rebecca Graham said the project complements the existing efforts of Country Health SA to refocus mental health services towards young people. ‘This project will reduce the disadvantage of distance and remoteness, allowing people access to quality support. It will also encourage greater openness to seeking help in country communities which is crucial to young people.’

More information on Young and Well Towns here.

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Posted: 14 February, 2014

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