Digital Mental Health Hub Would Provide Choice, Ease Pressure On Services – March 23, 2022
New Zealand Health Information Technology (NZHIT) is calling for a national digital mental health and addictions support hub, following a Mental Health and Wellbeing Commission report showing ongoing pressure on mental health services.
Te Huringa: Change and Transformation. Mental Health Service and Addiction Service Monitoring Report 2022 found there continued to be pressure on specialist services, particularly for young people. There was also a significant increase in the use of mental health digital and telehealth services, such as depression.org.nz and 1737 Need to Talk.
NZHIT chief executive Ryl Jensen says pressure on the mental health and addictions system could be eased significantly by the establishment of a digital mental health hub.
“A virtual hub would improve access to the services currently available and provide options and choice for consumers. It could make a huge impact on people’s mental health outcomes.
“The hub would include telehealth, digital mental health tools, mental health apps, and a network of trained professionals ready to help – a workforce that could be based all over the country. The hub would provide access to a variety of mental health and addictions services, offering anything from electronic self-assessment and help tools, to picking up people from general practice or hospital services, and supporting them for a period of time.”
Taranaki-based mental health practitioner and psychiatrist Dr Yariv Doron says a digital mental health hub would relieve some of the burden on mental health and addictions services, while offering an accessible, more equitable service.
“For example, someone diagnosed with depression could be ‘prescribed’ online cognitive behavioural therapy and a follow up of eight weeks by a virtual team who would make sure their medication was effective and safe.
“The person would work through their online course with help from the virtual mental health team. This might include email follow-ups, online form submissions and phone calls with trained practitioners. There would be check-in points throughout, and the person would be supported through a range of self-help and virtual tools such as telehealth.”
He says escalating issues would be picked up early, and the person referred for further in-person support.
“However, it is quite likely the hub would help them work through their mental health challenges online.”
He says the hub could provide support for the majority of mild to moderate cases, while allowing those with greater needs to be identified and offered higher levels of support, including face-to-face services.
Ryl Jensen says New Zealand is lagging behind other countries when it comes to providing digital options to support mental health and wellbeing.
“Little has happened, despite an overwhelming uptake of digital mental health tools throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. NZHIT's Digital Wellbeing Industry Group has put together a working group of academics, industry, health providers and practitioners to look at producing a digital mental health framework, based on successful overseas models.
“The framework would offer support to those who need it, with the digital/telehealth hub playing a key role. Pressure on secondary services would be lessened, enabling people in greatest need to be seen as a priority, in-person.”
NZHIT is calling for the establishment of a dedicated team to work on developing a digital mental health support hub.
“The team would co-design and integrate existing proven digital mental health and addictions services; produce a ‘digital highway’ to connect patients, whānau, practitioners and health information; and support the development of digital mental health tools.
“This will only happen with political will and leadership, and the allocation of personnel and funding.”