Technological revolution in mental health care

Technological revolution in mental health care means care can be provided for $9.70 per patient

Sue Dunlevy
news.com.au
May 6, 2015

AN extra $9 billion will need to be spent on mental health and 9,000 new psychologists trained as the population grows and more people seek help in the next 15 years a new report shows.

However, the care could be delivered at a fraction of the cost, just $9.70 per person annually, if early mental health intervention was delivered through online services the Ernst and Young report says.

It costs $845 to treat each person per year face to face with a psychologist but just $9.70 through an online mental health service says the report titled A Way Forward: Equipping Australia’s Mental Health System for the Next Generation.

The report also finds people prefer seeking help online because it is anonymous, there is no stigma attached and research shows online care is just as effective as face to face care in early stages of mental illness.

And online services can fill the gaps in rural and regional areas where access to psychologists and doctors can be extremely difficult for those with a mental health problem.

“In the time that it takes to train additional health professionals, existing online services could be helping literally thousands of people every year who are currently struggling and alone,” the authors say.

Online mental health services can involve cognitive behaviour courses that help people identify unhelpful thoughts and behaviours and learn healthier skills and habits. They provide fact sheets on common mental health problems, online forums where people with mental problems can speak to others with difficulties, and videos showing how other people with common mental health problems coped with their situation.

The report was prepared for online mental health service ReachOut.com which provides mental health help for around 140,000 young Australians a month.

The report says e-mental health could provide an excellent “first line of defence” in a system of mental health stepped care.

Online services can deal with people suffering from early stages of anxiety and depression while those with more severe mental illness should be treated by GPs and the most severe cases by psychologists and psychiatrists.

“No it (online services) can’t treat all people, but it can be a first line of defence that helps people find a solution that is better for them,” says ReachOut chief Jono Nicholas.

One in two Australians will experience a mental health problem during their lifetime but up to 70 per cent of young women and 80 per cent of young men will receive no help at all.

“We’re not realising the potential of these online services,” says Mr Nicholas.

Australian research has found it takes an average 6.9 years for those experiencing depression and anxiety to recognise they have a disorder and a further 1.3 years to seek help.

In this time their mental illness will likely have progressed to become more severe and may have led to family breakdown, employment problems, crime, suicide and other problems, the report says.

Under the existing government funded Better Access initiative it costs $507 per person to provide 6 face to face sessions of care and $845 per person for ten sessions of care.

By contrast, the report finds it costs $97,000 to build a high end online mental health service but the cost of the service is just $9.70 per patient once 10,000 patients use it.

It costs $290,000 to train 4.7 new psychologists who could treat a maximum of 1,416 people but you could build a high end online service that could treat 100,000 people for the same money.

The report concedes that it is impossible to treat all new cases of anxiety or depression as many people never present for help.

Research shows only half the burden of all mental health disorders can be averted with treatment.

However it estimates screening adolescents for early signs of depression and providing brief cognitive behaviour therapy could reduce incidence depression by 35 per cent.

An online program targeting 13-25 year olds mild depression and anxiety could help 78,500 people recover and avoid $346.4 million in costs per annum, the report says.

Reachout says if all the 371,915 young people with a mental illness who currently are not seeking help accessed an online service it would cost just 26 cents a head to provide them with early help.

If you need help you can call Lifeline on 131114 or contact ReachOut.

The material on this page has been transcribed from an article on the website news.com.au.

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