Plugging in the technology for mental health reform

| August 7, 2015

How can we address the problems our mental health sector is facing? Associate Professor Jane Burns, CEO of the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, says to truly reform the system we need to plug in the technology.

In any given year, four million Australians have mental health problems, and only a third have access to treatment. On top of this, seven Australians take their own life every day.

As these figures show, there is a very real need for us to find new and innovative ways of addressing problems and finding solutions in the mental health sector.

The Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre is an Australian based international research centre, uniting young people with researchers, practitioners and policy-makers to explore how technology can be used to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people.

We were recently commissioned to provide advice on innovative technologies in mental health to the National Mental Health Commission as part of its review of mental health programs and services. I was pleased to see our argument for the integration of e-mental health with face-to-face services reflected in the Commission’s report.

There will always be a place for bricks and mortar solutions, but to truly reform the system we need to plug in the technology.

Demand for mental health services, especially in regional, rural and remote communities, has long outstripped supply, and continues to grow. It is therefore vital to look to innovative, technology-based solutions to integrate with face-to-face care across the spectrum of mental health – from prevention, early intervention through to crisis intervention, treatment and recovery.

The opportunities technology provides to the mental health sector are numerous and wide-ranging. Ensuring that people are at the centre of a responsive e-mental health model allows them to access the right support at the right time, which can be easily adjusted dependent on their level of need.

If the majority of the population who are currently at the ‘lower needs’ end of the scale are able to use technology to assist in maintaining their wellbeing – a key preventative factor in developing a severe mental illness – then clinical services will be freed up to treat those with complex needs.

The e-mental health sector is agreed that it is time to unite, show leadership and coordinate efforts to reform the current system. This is critical given that every day families and communities are devastated by the tragedy of suicide. But sector reform and stigma reduction cannot only come from within the sector – input and support from everyday Australians is essential to create meaningful and impactful change.

The first Young and Well National Survey revealed a confronting picture of the mental health of our young people, with particularly stark findings about our young men. Within the course of a year, nearly one in five young men feel that life is hardly worth living. However, the results also revealed an exciting opportunity in the form of technology as a means to effectively reach and engage with young people.

The Young and Well National Survey laid the foundation for the Global Health and Wellbeing Survey, our latest research project. A partnership with the Movember Foundation — emerging leaders in the men’s mental health space — and the Brain and Mind Research Centre, the Global Health and Wellbeing survey gathers views on health and wellbeing of men and women aged 16 and over, with a particular focus on men’s health. The survey will provide a global ‘temperature check’ and baseline from where to start planning new, innovative programs to improve mental health and wellbeing.

We have an international role to play in shining a light on issues that affect the wellbeing of people around the world and their capacity to live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives. This research will be an ongoing platform and source of rich information that should inform policy and practice on a global scale. Together, we can fast track our understanding of how best to promote and care for the wellbeing of the world’s people.

Visit to take part in this ground-breaking research.

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