UNSW researchers at the Black Dog Institute are using digital technologies to target groups most at risk of mental illiness, including young people and those living in regional, rural and remote areas.
Nearly 60% of Australians with symptoms of mental illness fail to seek formal treatment. UNSW researchers at the Black Dog Institute are hoping to reduce that burden by delivering mental health programs using digital technology such as apps and social media.
UNSW Scientia Professor Helen Christensen, chief scientist and director of the Black Dog Institute, says despite increased investment and strong evidence showing prevention and intervention save lives, factors like geography, stigma and social circumstance make it hard for people to get help.
“We need to take treatment to the population, not just sit back and hope that they act,” says Professor Christensen.
“The world-first program, Digital Dog, has been established to translate everything we know about mental health into usable, engaging and accessible digital programs that will significantly reduce rates of mental illness and suicide.”
“Cost effectiveness, privacy and tailoring means digital mental health programs are particularly helpful for high risk groups such as men, young people and those living in regional, rural and remote areas.”
The Digital Dog’s programs include the use of Twitter, Facebook and blogs to identify suicide risk, improve social connections and deliver immediate interventions as they are required.
A smartphone’s Bluetooth sensor will also be used to measure social withdrawal and encourage help-seeking before a crisis situation.
“Our work will not only give us new ways of identifying and addressing poor mental health in real time, we will also be reducing health costs and leading the world in cutting-edge health technologies,” says Professor Christensen.