Technology key to improving mental health system for young people

The findings in the Government’s ‘Second Australian Child and Adolescent Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing’ highlight the extent of mental health and wellbeing issues among our young people and drive home the urgent need to address these issues in the smartest and most efficient way possible.

This latest survey of 6,300 families and young people aged 4 to 17 echoes the Young and Well National Survey undertaken in 2013, which revealed that almost 20% of young men aged 16 to 25 thought their life wasn’t worth living.

CEO of the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, Associate Professor Jane Burns, noted the findings in the new survey reveal a disconnect between parents and carers, and their teens when it comes to seeking information and help online.

“We have a situation where the parents and carers of young people with mental disorders aged 12 to 17 reported almost 11% of their teenagers used online services, yet adolescents themselves report that 52% of those with major depressive disorder had used an online service, mainly to find information.

“Couple this with the findings of our own survey on technology use among young people, and it paints a powerful picture. We found that 99% of young people aged 16 to 25 are online daily. This means that we have a real opportunity to reach young people online and provide more than information – we can look to new and emerging technologies to take online help-seeking to the next level,” Assoc. Prof. Burns said.

“Technology can also play a major role in wellbeing, which is vitally important in protecting against developing a mental health disorder. At the Young and Well CRC we are developing and trialing a number of wellbeing apps to ascertain their effectiveness in managing young people’s wellbeing, including Recharge, which focuses on encouraging young men to build healthy sleep and exercise patterns.”

Another innovation is the “myAssessment” app, which was trialled in headspace centres in Canberra. Results of the trial have shown that young people are up to ten times more likely to disclose issues answering questions via the app on an iPad in a clinician’s waiting room than in a traditional face-to-face consultation.

“By integrating technology into traditional services, we have a real opportunity to better service young people. We know that online is where young people feel comfortable and the results of this latest survey confirm that yet again.”

Young and Well CRC Youth Brains Trust member Rori Hancock believes that the results make a strong case to build on the foundation of work already underway integrating technologies to benefit young people’s mental health.

“While the magnitude of the statistics coming out of the report are distressing, they reinforce what we already believe about child and adolescent mental health: that young people need our help, and we need to make that help as accessible to them as possible.

“We’re learning more about how young people use technology, and how that can improve their mental health and wellbeing. We’re working out ways to improve access to a range of services, from face-to-face to online.”

Research from the Young and Well CRC shows that there are real benefits to using technology, including:

  • A ‘tell it once’ experience, reducing the stress associated with having to relay personal stories numerous times.
  • Reduce the severity of mental health conditions through self-care in between face-to-face sessions.
  • Anonymity and 24/7 access.

“We must reframe the notion of online services from simply a ‘cheap alternative’ to face-to-face care – there will always be a need for face-to-face services for those who are severely unwell and those with complex needs, but best practice would dictate this approach is supplemented by around-the-clock support provided through technologies,” Assoc. Prof. Burns said.

“There is also an obvious cost-effectiveness argument to be made in freeing up expensive face-to-face services for those who most need them. You wouldn’t admit yourself to hospital for a headache, and likewise you don’t need very expensive psychiatric services to treat the vast majority of mental health issues.”

As the Young and Well CRC advised the National Mental Health Commission during their recent review of Australia’s mental health programmes and services, five core activities are required to develop an ecosystem of e-mental health that interfaces with face-to-face services:

  • Development of shared technology platforms linked via common standards and open APIs
  • Models of sustainable funding that build on government investment
  • Innovation of existing and new user-centric services using new and emerging technologies
  • Integration of e-mental health interventions with face-to-face mental health services across states and territories
  • Consideration of integration within the broader health and other contextual domains e.g. housing, employment, social services, etc.
13/07/2016 to 15/07/2016
Student Well-Being and Prevention of Violence Research Centre Conference
24/07/2016 to 27/07/2016
National Suicide Prevention Conference
28/07/2016 to 29/07/2016
SYHPANZ Conference – Absolutely Positively Youth Health
10/08/2016 to 12/08/2016
17th International Mental Health Conference
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