News

New apps and e-tools protecting young people from mental health problems


1 October 2014

New apps and e-tools designed by mental health experts are giving young people the power to improve their own wellbeing and protect themselves from life-long mental health problems, according to Professor Ian Hickie, who will speak about teens, technology and mental health on October 8 at the University of Sydney.

"Mobile technologies are young people's primary access point for many kinds of services," says Hickie, who is Executive Director of the University of Sydney's Brain & Mind Research Institute.

Now, and increasingly in the future, more young people will tap in to self-help tools through smartphones rather than a laptop or computer.

"These new apps and e-tools are helping young people who don't engage with traditional forms of clinical care, and those who are excluded by geography, disability or socioeconomic status. We've therefore been mindful to design applications and tools that are simple, fun, easy and visually appealing," says Hickie.

"Importantly, these apps and e-tools can really empower young people and make them less reliant on clinicians, when that's appropriate.

"For instance, our free Recharge app has high appeal among young people. It makes it easy to enter and monitor key biometric data such as sleep and physical activity, while also monitoring experiential data (eg. mood) which helps users understand how to change their behavior and look after their own mental health and wellbeing.

"That's different to a lot of the other products on the market, which provide generic information and aren't really tailored to users' specific needs."

A joint development by the Brain & Mind Research Institute and ReachOut.com by Inspire Foundation, Recharge, has had nearly 5,000 downloads since its iTunes App Store launch in May 2014. Aimed at 16-25 year olds, users have used the app to read more than 33,000 wellbeing guide articles and conducted 32,000 sessions.

Ian Hickie also sees international potential for these new technologies: "What I love about apps and e-tools is their capacity to be picked up globally, particularly in the developing world, where smart phones are the default platform for online communication.

"When we talk about places like Indonesia, India and the Asia Pacific region, it means we can offer first world technologies to people who are never going to access a clinic or a health professional. This means they can get the best that we've got to offer, right now, through these applications."

Another online tool putting mental health services in the hands of young people is the e-Mental Health Clinic.

"New technologies offer the ability to deliver services as good, if not better than if you came to a physical location to see a health professional," says Tracey Davenport, Research Director at the Brain & Mind Research Institute.

"This is a real positive because the majority of young men and women with a major mental health issue never get access to care. Providing care online means we can jump many of the barriers that block young people from engaging with traditional forms of clinical care.

"It's a real leap forwards because it enhances our ability to be accessible, affordable and available when young people need professional clinical care. For the first time, technology provides the ability to be where we need to be at the time when young people really need help."

Developed by the Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre, the Brain & Mind Research Institute and the university's School of Electrical and Information Engineering, the e-Mental Health Clinic offers a unique, new model of care.

"We're taking the knowledge and expertise that sits in face-to-face clinics and offering it in the online environment," says the CEO of the Young and Well CRC, Associate Professor Jane Burns. "So you could be a young person living in rural Australia and yet be able to access the best professional advice and therapy without leaving your home. Better still, the care and support can be tailored to your needs."

These applications and services are just two in a suite of new online mental health and wellbeing apps and e-tools being developed by the University of Sydney and its partners at the Young and Well CRC and ReachOut.com by Inspire Foundation.

Talk details: Teens, technology and mental health
Speaker: Professor Ian Hickie
Date: Wednesday 8 October
Time: 6pm to 7.30pm
Where: Charles Perkins Centre Auditorium, The University of Sydney
Web: http://sydney.edu.au/medicine/21st-century/technology-mental-health.php

See Youtube video clips of mobile apps and e-tools to aid better mental health: Recharge app: http://goo.gl/DfnwvI + E-mental health clinic: http://goo.gl/yGBQyI

Media enquiries: Dan Gaffney, 048 100 4782, daniel.gaffney@sydney.edu.au