Rising mental health concerns call for digital solutions

Thursday, 19 August, 2021

Rising mental health concerns call for digital solutions

All Australians are being urged to take care of their mental health, with new data revealing that fewer than one in six people with psychological distress are seeking professional help.

Psychotherapy is proven to be an effective management and treatment option for many psychological and mental illnesses, and may be delivered in person or virtually. Concerningly, however, a significant proportion of our population who stand to benefit from psychotherapy currently lack access.

Several natural disasters and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in rising psychological distress among Australians, leading to the urgent plea, from doctors, patients and mental health advocates, to reinforce the critical need for innovative digital solutions to ensure every Australian has timely and affordable access to professional mental health support, no matter what their situation, location or socio-economic status.

According to Dr Matthew Zoeller — an intensive care specialist at Northern Beaches Hospital, and CEO and founder of virtual mental health clinic My Mirror — there are still many substantial barriers to overcome to enable Australians to gain access to professional mental health services.

“Despite the extensive work still underway to address the misconceptions surrounding mental health, the ongoing stigma associated with seeking and receiving mental health support poses a major obstacle for many Australians in psychological distress,” he said.

“However, stigma is just one of many challenges facing those affected. Time, cost and geographical location are also severely compromising Australians’ access to mental health support. This is especially true for those living in regional and remote areas, who may be required to travel to major cities or towns to access professional mental health care.

“It is therefore crucial that we identify an immediate solution to address this ongoing crisis, and adapt our currently inadequate mental healthcare system.

“Innovative ‘tele-tech’ models of care combine secure online platforms with next-generation videoconferencing technologies, to provide entirely virtual support. Improved uptake of these digital healthcare models is key to overcoming these barriers, to ensure all Australians can access professional mental health support when and where they need it,” Dr Zoeller said.

In a bid to improve access to timely and affordable expert mental health support for every Australian experiencing any level of distress across the spectrum, Dr Zoeller founded My Mirror — an Australian digital mental health clinic that strives to normalise the process of talking to a mental healthcare professional. My Mirror is the professional psychology partner to Awake Academy — an Australian online portal comprising a series of wellness courses — co-created by seven-time world surfing champion Layne Beachley AO.

Beachley believes arming every single Australian with the necessary tools to care for their mental health and wellbeing is fundamental.

“From my own personal experience, mental health care requires a holistic approach, including the development of a strong support network and professional psychological care,” she said.

“My Mirror is the perfect partner for Awake Academy, as the platform combines innovation with the professional expertise required to change the way Australians engage with psychological support.

“As a mental wellness champion, I’ve had my share of mental health-related issues. I’ve survived depression and serious injuries that formed part of the emotional rollercoaster that was my 19-year-long professional surfing career.”

Chief Psychologist and co-founder of My Mirror Kate Blundell emphasised that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to effectively managing mental health.

“Each person has a unique set of needs and circumstances, which may evolve over time. We must therefore be able to tailor mental health services to meet today’s societal and behavioural conditions,” Blundell said.

“We recognise that our current environment has put growing pressures on face-to-face psychological services, resulting in increased waiting times. It is important to recognise the quality and access that the digital mental health space can now provide.

“Wherever you are in your personal journey — if you’re a new parent, or juggling kids at home, if you’re overwhelmed at work, or feeling unusually anxious during lockdown — please reach out now for support,” Blundell said.

“Consider that there is now the option to speak to an accredited psychologist virtually, from the comfort of your home, at a time convenient to you, regardless of your situation, location or socio-economic status.”

Medical receptionist and nursing student Esther, from Brisbane, said she found herself “spiralling” mentally after succumbing to a physical illness she had previously battled for more than a year. She spoke to her GP, an in-clinic psychologist, and a few mental health hotlines, but failed to obtain the support she required. After further research, she came across My Mirror.

“I was able to book in almost immediately, and was grateful to be matched with a psychologist who suited my situation and personality. I also enjoyed attending the session from the discretion and comfort of my own bedroom,” she said.

“People shouldn’t be afraid to reach out for help. Professional support can give you the confidence to regain control of how you’re feeling, which is very empowering.”

Image caption: Awake Academy by Layne Beachley is teaming with evidence-based psychology partner My Mirror to connect patients with expert psychologists from the comfort of their own home.

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