Technology the key to progressive health

TECHNOLOGY is the key to accessible mental health services for young people and could save the Federal Government millions each year, according to a recent report.

‘A Way Forward’, commissioned by ReachOut Australia and Ernst and Young, details the cost-efficiency of online support services to create cohesion across Australia’s mental health system.

It emphasises the need for increased e-mental health platforms, with the cost of traditional face-to-face services averaging $845 per person in comparison with $9.70 for online services.

headspace Central West Gippsland’s Morwell and Warragul centres are federally-funded early-intervention services.

They opened their doors to 522 people aged between 12 and 25 years in 2014, providing close to 2400 occasions of service.

Morwell centre manager Paul Hamilton said young people and their loved ones could access a broad range of support, ranging from confidential face-to-face to anonymous online services.

“It is important they have access to both face-to-face and a range of other services,” Mr Hamilton said.

headspace offers young people and their families a national email, web chat and phone support service called eheadspace, similar to ReachOut’s e-mental health service.

It’s an anonymous, online tool, staffed by youth mental health professionals who also provide education, and is accessed by 120 young Australians every day.

“For people who don’t want to come to a service or for some reason, are avoiding coming to a service, that model of working through it by yourself is really good,” Mr Hamilton said.

“But all mental health issues can be incredibly complex and at times being in the room with somebody to understand the subtleties of the communication is particularly important.”

Mr Hamilton emphasised the need for immediate access and acknowledged technology was a tool for breaking down time and distance barriers.

He pointed to the centre’s tele-health system, which allowed people in rural or remote areas to access a health professional via a tele-conference network.

headspace youth and community engagement officer Hayley Franklin said online services reached a “whole new cohort of people” who otherwise would not seek help.

“But it shouldn’t be a replacement for anything, it should be an added option,” she said.

The pair described the anonymity and accessibility of online services as paramount for young people, but suggested traditional services still remained essential.

“It’s easy to jump to the cheapest solution, but particularly around health issues, some of the complexity around these issues is mind-boggling,” Mr Hamilton said.

“At times, services like this one and other mental health services, are dealing with young people who are highly complex and at significant risk to themselves and possibly the community.

“Therefore, to provide as broad a range of interventions – from in-patient to early intervention – is what we need to focus on, not just one modality or one size fits all.”

A Way Forward comes ahead of government plans to reform Australia’s mental health system following its National Mental Health Commission review last year.

If you or someone you know needs support, phone Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14, Kids Help Line on 1800 55 1800 or eheadspace on 1800 650 890.

A Way Forward’s key findings:

45 per cent of all Australians will experience a mental health problem over the course of their lives; one in five will do so in any given year

75 per cent of mental health problems first appear before the age of 25, yet more than 70 per cent of young women and 80 per cent of young men who need help and support don’t get it

Poor mental health in young people costs Australia at least $6.29 billion per year, including $1.3 billion in direct health costs and $1.2 billion in unemployment and disability payments

A further $9 billion (in salaries alone) would be required over the next 15 years to double the number of people receiving help for traditional service delivery