Digital mental health programs have existed for more than 20 years. They can help manage anxiety and other mental health difficulties in children and adults and provide access to care in a timelier manner.
Unfortunately, many mental health programs use a one-size-fits-all approach which is often not suitable for people in regional communities.
Many people prefer more individualised services, want programs to be personalised or want more choice and control over how they access professional mental health support.
For these reasons, a mental health research team led by the University of Southern Queensland (UniSQ) is testing a new digital model of care aimed squarely at young people living in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia who struggle to find evidence-based mental health programs.
“Our mission is to make evidence-based mental health programs available for all Australian children and adolescents, no matter where they live,” Director of UniSQ’s Centre for Health Research and project lead Professor Sonja March said.
Professor March said the key was finding the right balance of support that can make digital programs work for families in regional areas.
“Digital models of care for anxiety currently available to regional young people in Australia have typically been delivered via self-help programs,” she said.
“Although self-help interventions can be useful, they are best suited for mild to moderate anxiety and cannot be tailored to the child’s context, needs or regional setting.”
Anxiety is an increasingly common problem among children and adolescents, with less than half receiving help.
The wait time to see a psychologist can be more than 12 months, sometimes even longer for families in regional areas who must also travel to see a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Professor March said increases in mental health issues would continue if gaps in access to mental health services weren’t addressed.
“Young people living in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia can be at higher risk of mental illness and have less access to mental health services than their city counterparts,” Professor March said.
Announced today (March 1), the project has been awarded $376,000 in funding from the HCF Research Foundation to test a new digital model of care for child and adolescent anxiety and train professionals in how the program can be delivered at scale for regional communities.
The research team includes Professor March, Dr Govind Krishnamoorthy, Dr Arlen Rowe and Dr Kirsty Zieschank (UniSQ); Professor Caroline Donovan (Griffith University); and Professor Alison Calear (The Australian National University).
“For the past 22 years, our team has been developing and testing new, innovative models of care for child and adolescent anxiety,” Professor March said.
“We use digital programs to give families access to quality services that they might otherwise not be able to access.
“We’ve tested our digital program with thousands of children and adolescents and interviewed many young people, parents and clinicians on how we can improve our care models.
“Our digital program has helped many regional Australians, but we can do more.
“This funding will allow us to deliver a program for regional communities, determine how acceptable and effective it is, and ultimately help us to improve access to evidence-based care for youth anxiety in these areas.”
Learn more about UniSQ Research.