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How technology is helping Australia tackle youth mental health

Tech4Good

Posted on March 2, 2018

3 min read

Did you know that research has shown that the speed of typing on your mobile phone can be a predictor of depression?

As more young Australians deal with mental health issues, technology is playing a greater role in helping parents keep a close eye on their child’s state of mind.

The Telstra Foundation is a proud partner of Orygen, the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, which is developing technology to revolutionise therapy for young people with mental health conditions as well as supporting those caring for them.

For Orygen, treatments are not just about traditional psychology and delivering services face-to-face, but reinventing youth mental health services, so patients are not only relieved of the symptoms of mental ill-health but can use technology and interventions to live happier, more fulfilling, connected and purposeful lives.

Imagine a social network like Facebook – but a closed network, specially built for Australian young people suffering from a mental health condition. It is specifically designed to promote meaningful interactions with one another. There are peer moderators or young people who have been trained to provide support in the online environment as well as access to clinicians.

Associate Professor Mario Alvarez is the head of e-health at Orygen, also called eOrygen, and is pioneering the use of online social media to foster long-term recovery in youth mental health. He says they are using the latest psychological models to translate the interventions into an online environment.

“For example, the way we do it is through online comics. We have professional writers and comic developers along with clinical psychologists, researchers and young people working together, and then we take a psychological intervention that works face-to-face and adapt that intervention to be delivered online through interactive online comics.”

When young people log onto the online platform, the first thing the system does is help them identify their personal strengths and then from there it helps them work out how to use these strengths in their everyday lives to stay connected with friends, deal with stress and to experience positive emotions and well-being.

The moderators are able to suggest content or therapeutic material that is relevant to a young person’s needs.

The results from Orygen’s research have been promising. One young person who participated in a trial said: “It is the best online service available. I think it is truly life-changing; having so many options to get help all in the one place is amazing.”

Another area of work for eOrygen is a Telstra Foundation-supported project in which young people consent to have an app running in the background of their mobile phone that monitors their activity and analyses the kinds of things they are posting; picking up on any changes in their behaviour.

Orygen also believes artificial intelligence has an important role to play, to help analyse the sentiment or emotional tone of a message on social media platforms. It helps professionals try and ascertain whether someone is potentially experiencing anxiety, depression or even social anxiety. From algorithms, they can better determine whether someone is behaving out of character – and then use that information to offer effective interventions.

eOrygen has big plans for technology in the mental health space, and to play a big part in helping the younger generation live happy and fulfilling lives.