Bringing better mental health to rural areas through online programs

Dr Jan Orman
Dr Jan Orman
Black Dog Institute

For a long time patients with mild to moderate common mental health conditions (depression and the various forms of anxiety disorders) in rural and remote regions have been feeling the pain of the lack of readily available and affordable mental health services. The choice for many has been simply to endure or to seek help from overburdened general practitioners who don’t necessarily feel confident about delivering mental health care. This situation not only increases the burden of mental health problems in the individual but misses an opportunity for patients to learn skills to improve their mental fitness and reduce their vulnerability to future episodes.

Some GPs either have the skill to deal with patients who attend about their mental health problems or are able to refer these patients to a nearby psychologist or psychiatrist. But these practitioners, where they are available, tend to be overloaded with patients suffering from severe illness and have little time to spend with patients with mild to moderate illness, or in preventative care of the psychologically vulnerable. This is where online mental health treatment programs can be very useful.

There are a number of reliable Australian-made online mental health programs available for interested patients to use as self-help. The research shows these programs work for both depression and various anxiety disorders, but the big problem, once the GP has persuaded patients to look at an online program in the first place is to get them to stick with it. The evidence suggests that ongoing professional support as the user works their way through the program can be very helpful in determining whether people complete the course and in assisting people to get the maximum benefit. That ‘professional support’ could be from an allied mental health practitioner, a GP or a practice nurse.

Macquarie University has a set of online programs that have been designed to help overcome the adherence problem. The programs offered by the University’s MindSpot Clinic offer web-based cognitive behaviour therapy modules with the extra benefit of regular phone or email support from one of the psychologists at the clinic.

MindSpotMindSpot offers four ‘trans diagnostic’ courses which teach mental health skills in a way that does not require a specific diagnosis. The basic Wellbeing course is designed for adults. The Wellbeing Plus course is for adults over 60 years of age. The Mood Mechanic course is aimed at teenagers and young adults. The Indigenous Wellbeing course is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander users.

Course content is similar but has been modified appropriately to suit the intended audience.
There are also two diagnosis specific courses available from MindSpot – one for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and another for obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

MindSpot Clinic courses are completely free of charge. Patients can enrol without a referral and can involve their GP if they choose to do so. In that case their GP will be notified of their progress as patients move through the course.
To use the MindSpot Clinic, you need an internet connection and an email address or telephone number. It is good quality care providing support that, for many, would not otherwise be available.

Stick figure climbing boxes as stairs, each stair is higher than the other titled Lesson 1-5, L1 Introduction, L2 Unhelpful Thoughts, L3 Physical Symptoms, L4 Behavioural Symptoms, L5 Staying Well


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