Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Laura Ospina-Pinillos sees a new way ahead for mental health care through the development of a unique platform that aims to change traditional access to mental health care through reduced wait times.
Project Synergy draws on digital technologies to integrate existing apps and resources into one super-smart integrated platform, for people of all ages.
Young people can access the platform 24/7 with one login from any device – smartphone, laptop or tablet. Once they complete a secure online self-assessment about their symptoms and medical history, the platform instantly creates a comprehensive health profile that is shared with their mental health service.
“This platform is a game changer because it has been co-created, co-designed and developed with the people who will use it,” says Dr Ospina-Pinillos, a researcher with the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre.
If the young person is experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviours, the platform will alert their mental health service. If the person is at risk of suicide, the platform also directs them to call 000 and provides crisis support phone numbers.
“The young person is totally in control of what is going to happen and works in partnership with their clinician,” Dr Ospina-Pinillos says. “It’s empowering them with information about themselves to help them make the right choice.”
Rapid suicide detection is a health imperative – eight Australians commit suicide every day and more than 3000 people take their own lives each year, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The number of annual suicide attempts is a staggering 65,300.
The platform also scraps the need for young people to tell their story several times as they're often required to attend multiple specialist appointments, with long face-to-face consultations.
Project Synergy has already delivered very promising results in trials involving young Australians. After a 90-day clinical trial, the young people involved reported a substantial decrease in psychological distress. Around 95 percent of them said they would personally use the platform if they were in distress in the future.
Its success is driven by collaboration across many disciplines – from psychiatrists to software engineers who help to construct the digital infrastructure – and a $30 million investment by the Australian Government.
“The University provides the academic rigour behind the platform, the evidence base and a methodology that is all very strict,” says Dr Ospina-Pinillos. “That rigour is often lacking in uses of digital technology.”
The platform is adaptable to all ages, countries and contexts, she adds, as long as internet connectivity and other technology infrastructure is in place. Its clever use of smart technologies could transform mental health care access for future generations.
Lifeline Australia provides Australians experiencing a personal crisis access to online, phone and face-to-face crisis support and suicide prevention services. If you, or someone you know, need someone to talk to, please contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14.
Professor Ian Hickie’s plans for the long-term potential of the platform. Professor Hickie is the Co-Director of the Brain and Mind Centre.