Here we share four digital health solutions by Sydney researchers, which aim to improve access to mental health services, encourage help-seeking behaviours and upskill clinicians in managing and treating at-risk groups:
A joint venture between the University of Sydney's Brain and Mind Centre (BMC) and Pricewaterhouse Coopers Australia with $30 million government funding, the Innowell Platform harnesses the online environment to provide a 24-hour option for people seeking to improve their mental health.
As the Co-Director of Health and Policy at the BMC, Professor Ian Hickie is a tireless advocate for improving access for people with mental illness. As he points out, fewer than one in three girls and one in six boys with a major mental health problem ever gets an assessment or intervention.
The Innowell Platform is designed to fill that gap, going beyond traditional clinical methods and outside of business hours to provide users with resources, information, support and wellness notifications when they need it, based on their personalised profile data.
Developed by the University of Sydney Cyberpsychology Research Group in partnership with the Kids Helpline, Kids Helpline Circles offers a purpose-built, counsellor-moderated mental health and emotional wellbeing social network that’s safe, free and private for young people.
The platform encourages peer-to-peer support and delivers expert group counselling programs supported by professional Kids Helpline counsellors 24/7. At risk youth aged 13-25 can access the network anonymously from all devices, allowing them to find support anywhere at anytime.
Led by Zac Seidler, a registered psychologist and PhD student at the University of Sydney, the Man Island project is investigating how men access and engage with mental health services to develop the first ever male-centred mental health treatment manual.
Zac believes that the way forward is to reframe psychological help as a pathway towards empowerment rather than something shameful. “What we have recently learned in our research though is that men do want to seek help, and will engage in treatment, if they are given the type of help tailored to their needs."
Through co-development with men and experts in the field, the Man Island project is in the process of developing a treatment manual and training program for clinicians outlining a tailored approach to treating men with mental health concerns, incorporating the strengths of their masculinity.
Developed by researchers at the Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use with funding from the Australian Government Department of Health, the Comorbidity Guidelines is an evidence-based online resource for healthcare providers, to assist with the management and treatment of co-occurring mental and substance use disorders.
In developing these guidelines and an accompanying training program, researchers at the Matilda Centre aim to increase knowledge and awareness of co-occuring mental health conditions, improve the confidence and skills of alcohol and other drug workers, increase the uptake of evidence-based care and ultimately improve the lives of the many Australians who experience these conditions.
Professor Ian Hickie, who has been advocating for mental health reform in Australia for years, warns that the government's plan to expand the $1.5 billion Better Access program (which enables Medicare-subsidised visits to psychologists and other health professionals), is a limited and expensive strategy.
He says, "If we're serious about improving access to mental health care, we need to look to online therapies." Perhaps the greatest opportunity for enhanced mental health service delivery is to start to use digital technologies to drive new models of care specifically designed to meet the needs of each individual.
Declaration: Professor Hickie is the Scientific Advisor to, and a five percent equity shareholder in, InnoWell Pty Ltd, which was formed to deliver the $30m Australian government-funded Project Synergy.