Digital mental health self-help services critical for young people

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

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A new report by leading online youth mental health service ReachOut Australia and EY shows that digital self-help is an effective and engaging means of mental health support for young people.

Releasing the report today, ReachOut CEO Jono Nicholas urged Health Minister Sussan Ley to continue her work in implementing reforms aimed at integrating digital self-help with broader mental health services.

Mr Nicholas said young Australians would benefit greatly from implementation of the Government’s promised reforms. ‘When seven out of ten young people who experience mental disorders don’t get the help they need, this new report is a powerful illustration of how innovative technology can improve access to critical services at reduced cost,’ Mr Nicholas said.

‘This report shows why the Government needs to continue its work in implementing long-overdue reforms to mental health service delivery, and calls for full integration of scalable digital self-help with broader mental health services as an essential component of the stepped care model.

‘We acknowledge the Government’s increased investment in digital self-help and we look forward to sharing our expertise with the Government as it carries out these reforms.’

One Click Away? Insights into mental health digital self-help by young Australians, a report by ReachOut and EY, surveyed 2000 young people aged 16–25 who accessed the ReachOut service four times over a three month period for a range of issues, with the majority coming for support with anxiety (30 per cent) or depression (35 per cent).

Of the young people who participated in the study:

  • 68 per cent of young people said that ReachOut helped them work out what they needed
  • 7 in 10 reported that ReachOut made it easy for them to help themselves
  • two out of three said ReachOut gave them practical suggestions and tools
  • 64 per cent said it helped them understand their experiences.

Mr Nicholas said that only half of young people who had sought help from other services said that service provided the help they needed – which is why these results are so compelling.

‘Young people face a number of barriers to accessing traditional mental health services including negative attitudes towards help-seeking, cost, transport, waiting times, fear of breaches of confidentiality and a preference for self-reliance.’

‘Instead of asking young people to overcome all these barriers in order to get help, it makes more sense to deliver help to young people in a private, convenient, low-cost and timely setting via digital self-help.’

‘A trusted digital service like ReachOut.com which is accessed by more than 1.31 million people per year means that young people can get help without having to worry about cost, transport or finding the time and waiting for an appointment.’

‘Young Australians spend a lot of time online and see the internet as an important source of information and advice, so technology is a great way to engage them in the treatment and management of their mental health.’

‘Online self-help services are also relatively low-cost and scalable, which means they can help large numbers of young people at the same time at a low cost compared to traditional mental health services.’  

The report also looked at the role of digital mental health self-care for young people who are especially vulnerable to mental ill health and who are likely to lack access to appropriate services. The results for these young people included:

  • 33 per cent of the young people who completed the study were from regional and rural areas. Of this group, 32 per cent indicated that they were depressed, with more than half of that 32 per cent indicating that they had not sought help despite knowing they needed it.
  • 63 per cent of these participants agreed that ReachOut made it easy for them to help themselves, with 68 per cent agreeing that ReachOut gives them a range of practical help, actions and tools.
  • Around two-thirds of the young people surveyed identified as LGBTQI. Of these, 97 per cent said that ReachOut provided them with a safe and supportive community.
  • Around one-fifth of the young men who completed the cohort study accessed ReachOut to address anxiety issues. Of these young men, 53 per cent had anxiety scores which placed them in the severe or extremely severe range. Just over half of the young men who participated said ReachOut made them feel less alone, while 85 per cent rated the content as relevant to them.

Tony Johnson, CEO of EY, said, ‘This report shows just how effective, scalable and accepted digital mental health self-help is for young people. We now need to see digital self-help fully integrated into the mental health services system.’

One Click Away? is the fourth in a series of reports examining the current and future state of mental health and mental health service provision in Australia. It examines the benefits of digital self-help in the context of the Government’s recent mental health reforms. It uses longitudinal data of young people accessing ReachOut’s digital mental health services to demonstrate its benefits with a specific focus on at-risk groups including young men, LGBTQI young people and young people living in rural and regional areas.

About ReachOut Australia

ReachOut is Australia’s leading online mental health organisation for young people, providing practical support to help them get through everything from everyday issues to tough times. Since 1998, ReachOut has worked alongside young people to deliver online tools that address youth mental health and reduce youth suicide. An extension to ReachOut’s service for young people was launched in 2016 to help parents and carers improve the mental health and wellbeing of the young people within their family environment. Available anytime and pretty much anywhere, ReachOut.com is accessed by 110,000 Australians each month, or more than 1.31 million people each year.

About EY

EY is a global leader in assurance, tax, transaction and advisory services. The insights and quality services they deliver help build trust and confidence in the capital markets and in economies the world over. EY develops outstanding leaders who team up to deliver on promises made to all of their stakeholders. In so doing, they play a critical role in building a better working world.