As part of the Australian Government’s recommended stepped care model of mental healthcare, ‘e-Mental Health’ services (low-intensity online mental health interventions and resources) are becoming a much more important part of our mental health system.
With 1 in 5 Australians experiencing mental health difficulties, low intensity interventions can provide an ideal option for individuals with mild-moderate mental health symptoms where other options (e.g. psychologist referral, medication) might not be suitable. However, e-Mental Health services need not be an either-or choice when compared with face-to-face treatment. In fact, e-Mental Health services can fill multiple roles in the space between an individual seeking help from their GP and accessing treatment with a Psychologist, from initial psychoeducation and increasing acceptability of face-to-face services for first-time help-seekers, to crisis support between appointments, to providing interim support and brief intervention for busy periods where they may be on a waitlist.
Below is a brief guide to the range of e-Mental Health services available (Table 1), as well as an outline of the various roles e-Mental Health can play, and which services are most appropriate.
All listed programs have been developed by credible sources, such as the Australian Government, universities, and national nongovernment organisations.
Table 1. e-Mental Health Service categoriesHere is an outline of some of the ways e-Mental Health can be used to help our clients:
Head to Health
Previously ‘mindhealthconnect’, this is the Australian Government’s portal to mental health information and e-Mental Health services. It enables consumers to search for information and receive advice about their mental health needs.
|Telephone and Webchat||Telephone and online chat services, most often free and used for crisis support, information-seeking, or brief counselling.||
|Psychoeducation Websites||Freely accessible websites providing mental health information, and often general tips and strategies for wellbeing.|
|Online programs||Online self-guided courses that are either transdiagnostic (i.e. targeting common core mental health symptoms), or address a specific problem (e.g. Social Anxiety, PTSD). Some programs offer limited guidance from a therapist via phone or email. The majority of programs are free, with a few being low-cost.|
|Apps||Easy and convenient to use (as they are mobile- or tablet-based). However, due to the number of apps available on the market and the relative ease in creating them (compared to the more comprehensive online programs), many do not have experimental validation. As such, it is important to thoroughly check the content and credentials of any app before referring to it.||
1. As crisis support:
- Telephone and webchat services are a great option for clients to contact if they need immediate support out of hours or between appointments with their healthcare professional.
- Apps such as the BeyondNow Suicide Safety Planning app can help clients and their healthcare professional create a strong, structured plan for dealing with ongoing crises and distress.
2. Psychoeducation for first-time or hesitant help-seekers:
- Head to Health, the government’s mental health information portal, is a great place to direct clients to in the first instance.
- Psychoeducation websites are fantastic tool for providing information about general stress and wellbeing, specific diagnoses (e.g. generalised anxiety, eating disorders), or specific problem areas (e.g. parenting, relationship issues, work stress) to first time help-seekers.
- Online programs (particularly the transdiagnostic programs that don’t focus on a specific diagnosis, such as myCompass) are a great option for help-seekers who are hesitant or uncertain about face-to-face mental health intervention.
3. Interim support:
- If clients are on a waitlist or aren’t able to access timely support due to situational circumstances, online programs and apps can provide a great option to help them start working on their wellbeing in the meantime (which also means they can hit the ground running when they are able to commence face-to-face intervention).
4. To complement face-to-face treatment:
- Online programs and apps can help build on the skills being taught in therapy, such as CBT strategies, mindfulness and positive psychology. Whilst using these resources as a complementary tool can involve a little extra work on the part of the clinician (i.e. to be able to get to know the programs available and find ones that complement their work), it can really help to strengthen and reinforce the work done in session.