Swinburne is helping to make sure people have access to mental health support by developing free online services.

Almost half of all Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime.

Mental Health Online (mentalhealthonline.org.au) is a free e-therapy and mental health information service developed and delivered by psychology researchers at Swinburne.

The service was the first in Australia to offer an online self-assessment tool for mental health. It also offers free online therapy. People looking for help can either work through online modules on their own or consult with therapists using email, real-time chats or video calls. The service is also developing interventions that use virtual reality technology.

Mental Health Online provides an important service for people who might find it difficult to talk to someone in person. For many people, an anonymous online service provides a safer space to talk about issues such as suicide, trauma or eating disorders. Many others live in rural and regional areas without easy access to counsellors in person.

Helping thousands

From its launch in 2009, Mental Health Online has supported tens of thousands of people. Surveys suggest that the service is reaching people who would otherwise not receive any mental health advice or support – 53% of registrants said they had either not been treated in person in the past 12 months, or never.

Research has shown that using Mental Health Online (and e-therapy services in general) reduces the symptoms of mental health disorders. Mental Health Online can serve as an initial step towards seeking help in person for mental health issues.

And reducing costs

Mental Health Online has also reduced the cost of mental health support to the Australian economy. Mental Health Online provides an accessible and cost-effective service to all Australians at a fraction of the cost of traditional face-to-face treatments. It also reduces therapist time, and costs related to travel to see the therapist. Such savings – along with increased productivity of those who benefit from the treatments – are feeding back into the economy.

As well as offering treatments, Mental Health Online provides training and resources for healthcare practitioners, including online training modules for therapists and supervisors. These are used to train clinical psychologists from Swinburne and other institutions across Australia.

Research-based therapy

Mental Health Online is based on research by the Swinburne Department of Psychological Sciences into several anxiety disorders – notably generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The service was developed in collaboration with the National eTherapy Centre, the Swinburne Centre for Mental Health and the Swinburne Psychology Clinic. Relationships with key mental health organisations – such as the Anxiety Recovery Centre Victoria, Anxiety Disorders Association Victoria and Beyondblue – also played a key role in developing and supporting the service. For example, focus groups assembled by the Anxiety Recovery Centre provided feedback to support the development of the second phase of Mental Health Online.

Mental Health Online has also inspired the development of two other online support services by Swinburne researchers: the SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Technology) Research Program for psychosis recovery, and the ORBIT Bipolar Research Program, a worldfirst online service to help those with bipolar disorder.

Project lead: Dr Maja Nedeljkovic

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