Using digital resources in mental health

  • People clapping in seated class room
Jan Orman
By
Black Dog Institute
Dr Jan Orman
GP Services Consultant
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As a facilitator for Black Dog Institute’s health professional workshops, I have had the opportunity to travel to many country towns around Australia. Each town is fascinating and every workshop leaves me wondering what happened to my original ambition of living and working in the country.

I am always amazed at how resourceful people need to be in caring for patients with mental health problems. Some towns are well-serviced, but many have very little access to timely and appropriate mental health care. I have great admiration for GPs and other health professionals who work, often under difficult circumstances, to provide people with optimal care for their emotional wellbeing and their mental health.

It's not just challenging psychiatric emergencies that come to mind. It’s the volume of mild to moderate psychological distress that passes through a GP’s doors that must be pretty overwhelming.

Country folk are famously stoic, but it’s important that their psychological issues aren’t brushed aside. Early identification and intervention may help prevent some of the more serious problems. Self-help options may be preferred but people don’t necessarily know how to help themselves. We are in an excellent position to guide them to self-help resources and, if necessary, help them use those resources.

In 2020 even city GPs have been searching for more ways to incorporate online resources into patient care. Luckily, many reliable Australian evidence-based online mental health resources have been there for years waiting for us to discover them.

You might not be aware that I am not just talking about psychoeducation resources – though those are important too – I’m also referring to online help lines, chat services and online treatment programs that are reliable and evidence-based. Many studies have shown that, if patients can engage with online treatment programs, they will get significant benefit. Some studies show that, for mild to moderate anxiety for example, online cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) is as effective as face-to-face CBT.

You can recommend the best resource in the world but it’s not going to work if the patient does not engage with it. The onus is on us as practitioners to ’sell’ the use of digital resources. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure the patient has access to appropriate technology to use the online resource.
  • Recommend specific resources (for this you need to have some knowledge and show some enthusiasm).
  • Show the patient how to find other resources that might be useful to them on the Head to Health website www.headtohealth.gov.au
  • Show the patient the program/resource you have recommended on your desktop or on their own device during the consultation.
  • If registration is required for the recommended program, help them register (or get someone else in the practice to help them register before they leave).
  • Make it clear that this is part of a treatment program (that may also involve face-to-face therapy and/or medications).
  • Make a firm follow-up appointment to ensure that they are engaged with the resources and benefiting from them.

There are three main places you can start to explore what’s available in digital mental health resources:

  • Head to Health www.headtohealth.gov.au is definitely worth a look. 
  • MumSpace www.mumspace.com.au leads to resources for psychological support in the perinatal period.
  • For culturally appropriate social and emotional wellbeing resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander patients go to www.wellmob.org.au.

It’s important to remember that online resources are not just useful for treatment of existing problems but also good for helping build psychological resilience. One example is the Mental Fitness Challenge program you can find on the Bite Back site www.biteback.org.au.

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