General News Research Sector News — 25 November 2013
Mental health boost via online plans

TASMANIAN researchers hope several  in-development computer  programs will change the way mental  health services are delivered to  remote and rural communities.

Researchers at the University of  Tasmania are looking at innovative  ways that they can help people take  control of their mental health issues  at home, following the success of  similar interventions like the Australian  National University’s  Moodgym.

School of psychology masters  student Rosie Maunder, of Hobart, is  studying an online treatment for  obsessive compulsive disorder, developed  by Professor Ken Kirkby, Dr  Allison Matthews and Dr Joel  Scanlan.

OCD is an anxiety disorder in  which the sufferer has obsessions or  compulsions they may perform several  times a day. Miss Maunder said  OCDdrop would put participants in  simulated situations which made  them anxious and caused compulsions,  to try to teach them to manage  the compulsion.bigstock-Computer-Boy-171487(2)

“It helps the client learn that the  situation they’re in is not going to  result in the dramatic, catastrophic  consequences they have in their  head, and to reduce their anxiety,”  she said. Miss Maunder said the  program would hopefully increase  the accessibility and ease of treatment,  with at least 50 per cent of  OCD sufferers not seeking help.

She said the team had already  successfully developed and trialled a  similar online program targeted at  people with phobias, called  FearDrop.

Rural Clinical School e-health research  fellow Colleen Cheek, of  Burnie, said self-help computer  programs had a lot of potential in  rural and remote areas with few  health services.

Ms Cheek is hoping to trial  SPARX, a fantasy-themed computer  game which uses cognitive behaviour  therapy to help young people  with depression.

She said the program had proven  to be as effective as face-to-face  therapy in New Zealand, where it  was developed, and she wanted to  see if it would work as well for  young people in the North-West.

“We already conducted some focus  groups with youths in Smithton, and  they felt there was a strong need for  this sort of program here, and overwhelmingly  they needed access to  things that couldn’t identify them,”  Ms Cheek said.

“They wanted to get help without  having to divulge their thoughts and  feeling to people, and to articulate  their feelings in a safe place.”

Ms Cheek said the creators had  given UTAS the program to use  licence-free for three years, but she  was looking for money to put it  online and host it.

She said while the technology had  a lot of potential to strengthen mental  health services and support, it  would never replace face-to-face  therapy. “It won’t suit everybody,  but some people might use it and it  will be all they need,” she said

This article first appeared on ‘The Examiner’ on 23 November 2013.

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