Online mental health monitoring trial keeps track of young people’s progress in real time
Five years ago Amber, aged 18, moved from Indonesia to Australia. For the past several years she has been battling homelessness and mental ill-health.
- The InnoWell digital platform helps participants keep track of their feelings in between appointments
- It records data in 16 areas including sleep, mood, physical health, suicidal thoughts, and social connectedness
- It also allows participants to focus on other important areas in their life, such as finding housing
“I thought my parents would always be with me, because people from my culture they’re pretty close to each other, I never thought they would leave me alone, I was kind of lost,” Amber said.
“Mostly I just try to fix up where to live but no-one wants to hire you so basically you have that constant anxiety or depression thinking people don’t need you.
“Being homeless and mental health is very strongly related.
“When your mind gets the best of you there is nothing you can do and that is when you need people.”
Amber went to headspace seeking help for anxiety and depression.
It was there where Amber was invited to participate in an online prototype, called InnoWell.
“At that time I just remember you get $30 coupons from Woolies and I was like ‘Yeah, that would be good for groceries, OK I’m a part of it’,” she said.
Professor Ian Hickie, co-director of the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney, is leading the research team behind the trial.
“We’ve recognised an increase in suicidal behaviour, presentation to emergency departments, and we recognise that these problems are worse in regional Australia,” he said.
“Particularly in areas that have struggled with youth unemployment, have drug and alcohol problems and other real challenges.
“These are exactly the kinds of areas that need these innovative trials and they’re also the areas that we’ve struggled to provide the right kinds of health services that can really make a difference.
“What the technology allows the young people to do is put the data in first, describe the problems they’ve got, they may be physical health problems, mental health problems, substance abuse problems, so that the services can organise themselves to respond to their needs.
“Rather than putting a round peg in a square hole, it’s about saying ‘Here’s what I need. Can you now arrange the services to respond to me?””
Shelley Rowe, post-doctoral researcher and implementation coordinator for the platform said it helped to gather vital information in between appointments.
“You actually go to your appointments when you’re feeling well enough, so then it’s hard to reflect back a week ago, when you may have been experiencing a crisis,” she said.
The platform has the capacity for ongoing monitoring and tracking of the user across 16 health areas including sleep, mood, physical health, suicidal thoughts, and social connectedness.
“It also allows the young person to say ‘Well, that is not a priority for me right now; housing is my priority’,” Ms Rowe said.
In a traditional health care model people could wait up to several months in between appointments.
“If you want to see a counsellor or a doctor in headspace they give you fortnightly appointments,” Amber said.
“The questions on the platform will prepare you what to say when you meet up with your GP or your counsellor.”
The use of digital technologies to deliver mental health care for young people sees a potential move away from the traditional clinical setting.
“There are people who are homeless who don’t have access to technology. Sometimes you have your phone, sometimes you don’t,” Amber said.
“There are barriers to accessing mental health care but there are also barriers to accessing technology, which we are exploring through the development of the platform,” Ms Rowe said.