Mental Health Blueprint: Promoting technology to close treatment gap for mental issues in Australia

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The Turnbull government has recently announced its support for the innovative digital mental health technologies under Australia’s new Mental Health Blueprint. The blueprint recognises the potential contribution of technology to improve the lives of people with mental health problems and reduce the treatment gap in the country.  

Estimates show that over 3.6 million people experience mental ill-health every year. However, only 35 per cent of Australians diagnosed with a mental illness are capable to access necessary health services for their condition, indicating a significant treatment gap for mental illnesses in the country, the health-tech company, Healthshare, said.  

Therefore, the Australian government sees the significant benefit from using online mental health interventions. Healthshare believes that digital services could help people suffering from depression and anxiety as effective as face-to-face sessions.

“The Mental Health Blueprint recognises the power of technology to help people’s mental health and reduce the treatment gap for people accessing help,” said Healthshare CEO, Rami Weiss, in a statement.

The company has recently launched an app, called Connect, to allow people communicate with a qualified Australian therapist through a messaging platform. Weiss noted that the app does not replace traditional counselling, but it could help new technologies promote more accessible mental health support to people.

A recent survey, released in November, indicates that technology is leading rapid shifts in social norms. Deloitte’s Mobile Consumer Survey 2015 shows that instant messaging has been widely used than phone calls by 18- to 24-year-olds.

The use of instant messaging by people over the age 45 has also increased to almost 70 per cent in 2015, and it is expected to grow further.

“Technology is rapidly changing how we communicate,” said Alysha Casey, a clinical psychologist and Healthshare’s clinical director. “Texting has become a primary communication method. Therapy needs to engage people in a relatable way.”

Healthshare’s app, Connect, uses technology to deliver treatments to people who are not yet ready to attend a face-to-face therapy. Casey added that some patients may want to remain anonymous, unable to travel, or just need help in a new way.

“If technology is how people engage, then we need to integrate it into our approach,” she said. “Connect provides anonymity, convenience, and high quality support at a lower cost than face-to-face therapy.”

People who can access Connect include those experiencing depression, anxiety, workplace issues, addiction, eating disorders, relationship issues, stress management and sexual difficulties.

Previous research suggests that text therapy can be an efficient and effective means of therapy. A US study also shows that 81 per cent of text therapy users consider it similar or better than other forms of therapy in delivering positive effects, with 98 per cent saying it’s more convenient and 69 per cent found it more affordable.

“We no longer have to be in the right place at the right time to access psychological support. We can now reach out from the comfort of our own home and in the moment that we might need it most,” Casey said.

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