Professor Helen Christensen

Director, Black Dog Institute

  Social media

Large data sets such as World Health Organization statistics are collected less than once per year, whereas social network platforms offer the opportunity for real-time analysis of expressed mood. Such patterns are valuable to the mental health research community, to help understand the periods and locations of greatest demand and unmet need.

Internet enabled technology

By providing accessible and anonymous prevention the Internet can play an important role in overcoming obstacles for seeking help. Whilst suicide is the most common cause of death in Australians aged 15-44 and the tenth most common cause of death overall for Australian males, it is estimated that only 56% of persons with suicidal thoughts are receiving treatment. The most frequently reported barriers for seeking help include attitudinal barriers and low perceived need for treatment. Other factors that may play a role in help negation include shame, fear of losing autonomy and negative attitudes towards health care providers.

Information Communication Technology (ICT) is increasingly recognised as a driver and transformer of health practice, including in psychology and psychiatry.

In his recent report of medical health research in NSW, Wills noted that these advances ‘position us at the start of arguably the most exciting era of health and medical research’. ICT is currently being used to deliver eHealth applications. These are effective in preventing and treating mental health conditions and the Internet serves as a platform to disseminate them.

Pervasive personal health devices, such as those mounted within mobile phones, can be used to collect individual data on risk factors, and thus offer for the first time the potential to collect individual data and develop personalised, tailored programs delivered universally.
The Internet also provides the opportunity for social connectedness, through social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, emails and SMSs.
These social networking modalities can be both studied and influenced, thereby creating for the first time the opportunity to change attitudes and bring about behavioural change at a population level.

Why e-Mental Health?

Statistics show that less than half of all Australians reporting the symptoms of mental illness seek formal treatment. Despite increased investment and strong evidence showing prevention and intervention save lives, factors like geography, stigma and social circumstance make it hard for people to get help.

eMental Health (eMH) refers to services that target common mental health problems and are delivered through online and mobile interactive websites, apps, sensor-based monitoring devices and computers as well as telephone and online crisis support lines. Australia’s eMH is an effective and complementary sector to traditional face-to-face mental health services.

eMH services are a valuable resource for dealing with Australia’s mental wellbeing due to the way they provide immediate, non-stigmatised access to support for individuals and families, lower government health cost due to the decrease in real time involvement by health professionals, increase help-seeking behaviours and provide pathways to other eMH and conventional services. Online preventive interventions also have the potential to be cheaper than later treatment services, especially when you take into account the productivity that is lost due to illness.

Due to the easy access, privacy and low cost provided by eMH services they are particularly helpful for groups with higher rates of mental health issues and lower rates of help seeking behaviours, like men, young people and those living in regional, rural and remote areas, where access and stigma are barriers to good mental wellbeing. In general, eMH services are beneficial for anyone with access to the internet and in need of help [e-Mental Health Services in Australia 2014: Current and Future].

The Black Dog Institute provides, and is developing, a diverse range of evidence based eMH services that offer diagnoses and support for those struggling with mental health issues and illnesses.