New portal from Australian government provides one-stop access to digital mental health services

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OpenGovAsia (08.11.2017) Evidence shows that for many people, digital interventions can be as effective as face-to-face services.

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The Australian Government has launched a new digital mental health gateway – Head to Health. Head to Health focuses on digital services and resources, providing a one-stop shop for services and resources delivered by some of Australia’s most trusted mental health service providers. These resources include free or low-cost apps, online support communities, online courses and phone services. The website also features a chatbot for pointing people in the right direction.

The portal is part of a long-term shift in mental health care towards early intervention. It is expected to be an essential tool for the one in five working age Australians who will experience a mental illness each year. According to the press release, evidence shows that for many people, digital interventions can be as effective as face-to-face services.

Head to Health provides a place where people can access support and information before they reach crisis. The website helps people take control of their mental health in a way they are most comfortable with and can complement face-to-face therapies.

It will continue to grow with additional services, a telephone support service to support website users, and further support for health professionals to meet the needs of their patients.

Digital mental health services are an important part of national mental health reform and have been identified in the recently endorsed Fifth National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan. The Plan document states: “The Fifth Plan also recognises the maturation in recent years of e-mental health, and data sharing and information and communications technology platforms such as electronic health records, and the potential that these digital services may have over the life of the Plan to further support tailored individual care for people with severe and complex mental illness.”

Building a digital mental health gateway was a key part of the Government’s response to the National Mental Health Commission’s Review of Mental Health Programs and Services.

Recently AU$43 million has been announced in funding for national suicide prevention leadership and support activity to organisations across Australia such as R U OK?, Suicide Prevention Australia and Mindframe.

This year the government is also investing AU$92.6 million in the headspace programme to improve access for young people aged 12–25 years who have, or are at risk of, mental illness. Headspace includes eheadspace is an online and telephone service that supports young people and their families going through a tough time, a Digital Work and Study Service and a telehealth component, which allows young people to speak with a qualified psychiatrist online, based on referral from a headspace centre.

In addition, AU$52.6 million is being provided to beyondblue, which will partner with headspace and Early Childhood Australia to provide tools for teachers to support kids with mental health concerns and provide resources to help students deal with challenges. beyondblue provides information and support to help people achieve their best possible mental health. Activities conducted by beyondblue include social media approaches to increase knowledge of depression and anxiety; the conversations project, which is a suite of digital resources to help people have a conversation about depression and anxiety; the STRIDE project, which commissions research projects to demonstrate the impact of digital interventions in reducing the stigma of anxiety, depression or suicide in men aged 30 to 64 years.