With wait times for some mental health services in regional areas being more than nine months and suicide being the leading cause of death for Australians aged between 15 and 44, there is a clear demand for more support and innovation to address the needs of regional communities. This is where technology and upstream interventions can make a difference.
For the last two years, batyr has been developing a digital storytelling app with support and funding from the Australian Government. OurHerd is guided by batyr’s best-practice storytelling model and supports young people to share safe, relatable and engaging content about how they have navigated tough times. It allows young people to express themselves through art, music, video or writing.
OurHerd is a world-leading initiative that is uniquely positioned to capture insights from lived experience stories, to improve social and emotional outcomes for communities by informing governments and decision makers about what young people are experiencing and needing.
OurHerd is looking to launch publicly early next year but has already shown promise in regional Australia with 20 per cent of beta users coming from regional or rural communities. There have been over 28,000 story views on OurHerd so far, which is only a snapshot of what’s to come.
An early findings evaluation, conducted by Western Sydney University’s Young and Resilient Research Centre, on the impact of OurHerd on its users indicated:
- OurHerd is a one-of-a-kind safe digital space where young people don’t feel alone
- young people want to take control of their own mental health by seeking information and supporting others
- OurHerd is expected to be beneficial for mental health literacy, help-seeking and internalised stigma
- the informal learning that comes from viewing stories is a critical offering of OurHerd
- the OurHerd community feels self-empowered and empowered to help others.
Furthermore, it is exciting to see how story insights have the power to support systems reform and improve mental health outcomes. Shown above are some of the early insights being taken from the app from stories shared by young people in regional and rural communities.
Compared to all stories shared on OurHerd, for regional and rural populations there is an increase in mental ill-health for those who are part of the LGBTIQ+ community. There is also higher representation (19.6 per cent) of COVID-19 as a significant contributor to mental ill-health and a notable spike (84 per cent) in those highlighting access to mental health professionals as the most valuable factor in aiding their recovery. This is a higher figure compared with the general dataset.
Exercise (21.9 per cent), routine (15.6 per cent) and self-acceptance (15.6 per cent) appeared as the top three healthy practices, but also appearing highly is the use of social media (6.3 per cent). This illustrates the important role that technology plays in allowing connections to people who can provide support for those living in more remote areas.
This is simply a snapshot of the valuable insights and information that OurHerd can generate for governments, policymakers, researchers, grassroots organisations and service providers.
The real-time data and insights obtained through the app will be incredibly valuable for advocating for change, influencing policy and amplifying youth voices. By combining data and AI, OurHerd can achieve a step-change improvement in the understanding of and insight into the causes, contexts, challenges and consequences of distress amongst young people living in regional and remote communities.