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Youth mental health and technology

We are transforming the mental health care of young people

The Youth Mental Health and Technology team puts young people at the centre of their own care. We partner with health services to develop innovative treatments for those aged 12-25 with emerging mental health disorders.

There is a great need to transform the way in which clinical care is delivered to young people with emerging mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, other mood disorders and psychosis. Specialised clinical assessment is required and treatment systems need to be much more customised to the individual’s unique needs.

A new way forward

We aim to transform how clinical care is delivered to young people with mental health issues. Rather than rely on broad diagnostic generalisations, we want to see clinicians diagnose and treat young people in a way that caters to the individual needs of each person.

We focus on three main streams of research:

  • clinical service development: continuously improving health services for young people by systematically evaluating services
  • technology: optimising online environments to deliver services, track progress and provide feedback to young people and their clinicians
  • clinical research: ongoing longitudinal patient studies to develop and trial new interventions for complex mental health issues

Novel interventions

The Brain and Mind Youth Cohort Study began in 2008. 11 years later, we have assessed over 8000 individuals with early phases of anxiety, mood or psychotic disorders. From this cohort we have been able to carry out specific clinical trials of new behavioural, social and pharmacological interventions for these disorders.

Project Synergy – transforming healthcare

We are using new digital technologies to develop health systems that better meet the holistic needs of young people with mental health issues. Working with InnoWell Pty Ltd* (a joint venture between The University of Sydney and PricewaterhouseCoopers), the Youth Mental Health and Technology team have built a digital platform that can be tailored to the unique needs of the young person, and is collaboratively managed by the person seeking care and their clinician. In time, this technology may be used as the first point of contact in clinical care.

The Australian Government’s Department of Health has provided funds for a series of research trials, known as Project Synergy, to test this platform across different population groups, including young people. Through the InnoWell Platform,  young people can complete real-time questionnaires and view their results immediately, they can monitor their ongoing progress, and in collaboration with their clinician, they can choose treatment options tailored to their unique needs, ensuring they receive the right care at the right time. Importantly, the InnoWell Platform has been co-designed and developed with the populations that are the subject of each research trial to build a platform for people, made by people. Watch this video to learn more about the InnoWell Platform.

This seamless continuum of support from online services through to healthcare providers offered by the InnoWell Platform  aims to fundamentally improve the system of care in Australia’s youth mental health services. We are running trials of the InnoWell Platform at 11 headspace locations across Australia, The Butterfly Foundation’s National Helpline, as well as with other organisations including a Sydney-based veteran family counselling services to ensure the platform is tested to meet the diverse needs, contexts and experiences of Australia’s young people.

*The University of Sydney and PwC each have a 45% shareholding in InnoWell. The remaining 10% shareholding is evenly shared between Professor Jane Burns and Professor Ian Hickie.

In terms of mental health, young people are most important. The majority of mental disorders have their onset within the adolescent to young adult period. It’s a time when the brain is undergoing the most dynamic changes.
Dr Daniel Hermens, Brain and Mind Centre.

Brain and Mind Centre Youth Model

Future Generation Global Investment Company (FGG) is Australia's first internationally-focused listed investment company, with the dual objectives of providing investors with ample exposure to global equities, while still helping to improve the lives of young Australians with a lived experience of mental illness.

From 2016 and over the next five years, FGG will support the Brain and Mind Centre’s Youth Mental Health and Technology team to implement digital technologies that provide highly-personalised and measurement-based care to improve the health outcomes for young people with depression, particularly those who are living in regional, rural and remote Australia. FGG has also supported the development of the Brain and Mind Centre Youth Model which includes an evidence-based training program for staff at participating trials (health professionals, managers and administrators) and young people accessing care including clinical (i.e. staging), service (i.e. stepped care), and digital elements. Importantly, the training program also includes the ‘zero suicides in care’ philosophy. Through the support of FGG, the Youth Mental Health and Technology team has developed novel online clinical assessment and longitudinal tracking systems that are built into the technology. To date, FGG funds have supported the implementation of the digital technologies in 10 primary youth mental health services in New South Wales, as well as one in South Australia. To learn more about this FGG-supported work, watch this video. To learn more about the youth research at the Brain and Mind Centre, watch this video.

For more information go to the FGG website.

General mental health 

Our broad program of research also includes:

  • development of novel suicide-prevention strategies
  • effects of cannabidiol on brain metabolism and inflammation using positron emission tomography (PET) 
  • youth cyberbullying 
  • personalised approaches to education and employment participation

Collaboration for better outcomes

Our research program is heavily integrated with headspace Camperdown. headspace is the national youth mental health foundation providing early intervention and mental health services to 12-25 year olds. The integration of cutting-edge research with safe and effective clinical care enables us to quickly and effectively translate our research findings into clinical services, facilitating continuous improvements to mental health services for the benefit of young people in Australia. 

Improving mental health - Ian Hickie