General News Technology — 06 April 2012

A survey by the national mental health charity SANE Australia has found that many people with a mental illness are enthusiastic users of the Internet and social media to manage their lives and make social connections.

The research, which focused on how people use the Internet, found that 93% of the 605 respondents to an anonymous online survey were confident using the Internet, and an even greater proportion (95.8%) had access to the Internet at home.

‘The majority of people with mental illness in this survey use the Internet to manage their finances, shop and engage with government agencies such as Centrelink. Importantly, the majority (72.7%) told us that the Internet made it easier to maintain existing relationships and to make new ones,’ says the Executive Director of SANE Australia, Barbara Hocking.

Four out of five respondents also had a Facebook account, and one in three (34%) had a Twitter account.

‘This is an important finding because it tells us how the Internet plays a valuable role in helping people overcome isolation and stay connected. It also highlights what people who are not connected are potentially missing out on,’ Ms Hocking adds.

More than 60% of respondents said they used the Internet to search for health information. The most popular website was the Victorian Government’s betterhealth channel, followed by the ninemsn Health + Wellbeing site and mydr.com.au. (SANE Australia is a provider of mental health information for all of these sites.)

One third of respondents had used reputable online self-help programs – such as moodgym, e-couch and anxietyonline. Many said these sites are making a real difference to their lives.

Black Dog Institute Executive Director Professor Helen Christensen, an expert in the effectiveness and use of eMental Health, says it’s encouraging to see mobile and Internet health sites are improving the lives of people with mental health problems.

‘Access to the Internet has become an essential part of our lives and it will increasingly be used to deliver health services,’ says Professor Christensen.

‘We need to ensure that everyone who wants it, has online access and support to perform essential tasks, such as browsing for information and using email,’ says Ms Hocking.

Ms Hocking says people without access are likely to have other disadvantages such as being homeless or in poor housing, being unable to manage finances or to be living in regional or remote areas.

SANE’s Executive Director also pointed out that a person’s choice of communication must be respected.

‘Government agencies must ensure the Internet is never the sole means of information and contact.’ Ms Hocking adds.

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