Hundreds of thousands of Australians are going online to access quick, free mental health support at websites pioneered by a small, innovative team in the ACT.
Two free, online programs designed in Canberra, called MoodGym and E-Couch, currently have over 800,000 registrants and 3.3 million page views a month and have proven effective at treating depression and anxiety through online courses.
ANU’s National Institute for Mental Health Research director Professor Kathy Griffiths said the pages had a large number of subscribers from overseas and had been translated into many different languages.
“A large percentage of people with a mental illness don’t get any professional help, about a third. So the question is how can you actually assess people to get help?” she said.
“There are barriers to getting mental health help – one is stigma, another is a belief in self-reliance so the online programs have the advantage that they’re anonymous … [and] it’s a way of helping yourself without involving another person.”
Professor Griffiths said they had begun with the program MoodGym which helped people tackle depression using cognitive behaviour therapy techniques.
She said while programs such as MoodGym and E-Couch were becoming increasingly common worldwide, it hadn’t been that way when the Canberra team started.
“We were pioneers in establishing this and when we started people said, ‘No it won’t work. No one is going to come.'” she said.
Canberra-based PsychSessions director and principle clinical psychologist Dr John Brown said in his practice they regularly recommended online mental health resources to patients, which could help speed up recovery and prevent relapses.
“[Patients are] able to go out and continue what we do in face-to-face therapy with that ongoing support in-between. It adds to what we do in face-to-face therapy by adding resources and support between sessions,” he said.
Professor Griffiths said there was a large body of evidence which showed online programs could be just as effective at treating mental health issues as in-person consultations, depending on the patient.
She said sometimes the programs had been known to work when face-to-face consultations had failed to produce results.
“In the mental health sector you expect this will be a care program which is increasingly used,” she said.
This article first appeared on ‘The Age’ on 6 December 2014.