Project Synergy: Building an online platform to deliver right care, first time
In Australia, and globally, the need for mental health services far exceeds the current capacity of health systems to provide care. 1 in 6 Australian’s, 3.9 million people experienced a mental disorder in the past 12 months, 7 but only 1.8 million (46%) accessed treatment.
Many experience significant barriers to accessing mental health care – particularly if they are young people, older people, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people, from a non-English speaking background, homeless, live in areas with poorer socio-economic conditions, or live in rural and remote areas.
Limited access to high quality services is notable for young people as it is well established that 75% of serious mental illness and alcohol or other substance misuse emerge before 25 years of age.
When young people do seek and receive help, timely and evidence-based treatments are only received by a minority. For young people, stigmatising attitudes and embarrassment are often cited as prominent barriers to help-seeking.
Other barriers include concerns around confidentiality and trust, difficulty identifying the symptoms of mental illness, undue reliance on self- help (ie, not wanting professional help), limited knowledge about mental health services, and a lack of accessibility (eg, transport, geographical location, cost). Lack of actual availability of high quality services and trained health professionals is another significant barrier.
Increasing access to care alone is not sufficient to ensure good outcomes for people with mental illness. Additionally, access to evidence- based treatments is critical to achieving good outcomes.
Over the past decade, evidence suggests that the internet is considered not only as an information resource but a space where people feel confident to talk about their mental and physical health issues. While there is conflicting evidence as to whether some parts of the internet, specifically social networking sites, may be associated with mental health issues, the internet in general is also increasingly recognised as a critical setting to promote youth mental health and wellbeing.
The World Health Organisation advocates engaging young people in the environments where they interact, and using the tools and networks with which they are familiar. In Australia, almost all young people aged 16–25 years are online (99%), with 60% using the internet to find information related to mental health.
To date, the most common drivers for developing and promoting online support have been economic and access based. That is, the cheapest way to reach more people is via the internet.
However, the evidence base now also suggests that integrating online health information technologies with face-to-face services can:
- promote universal access to services, regardless of location, vulnerability or socio-economic status
- increase disclosure to facilitate a stepped approach to help-seeking;
- reduce burden on the face-to-face system by using technologies to promote self-management and prevention where possible;
- increase effectiveness of face-to-face services by augmenting traditional mental health support with technologies that promote shared management;
- improve the identification of people at risk of suicide by using online assessment before face-to-face appointments to enable an appropriate and timely response from service providers;
- facilitate rapid identification of individuals at risk of progressing to more severe mental illness.
To find out more, download our supplement ‘Overview of Project Synergy: Building an online platform to deliver right care, first time‘ from the peer-reviewed Medical Journal of Australia.