Changing the landscape of digital mental health

Health promotion in remote communities
November 14, 2022

Changing the landscape of digital mental health in Australia

A publicly available 2021 report by Australian Government Department of Health reported that the digital mental health sector has experienced rapid growth over the past decade due to the proliferation of digital tools and technical advancements, increasing consumer preferences for digital health, and the impacts of COVID-19 and natural disasters on the user’s ability to access face-to-face services.

Digital mental health refers to the use of digital technologies, such as mobile apps, online platforms, and virtual therapy, to support mental health and wellbeing. It involves the use of technology to deliver mental health services, interventions, and support remotely, making it more accessible, convenient, and cost-effective for individuals seeking mental health services.

Digital mental health services can include online therapy, virtual counselling, mobile apps for mental health, digital self-help tools, and other digital interventions aimed at promoting mental health and preventing mental illness. These services can help individuals manage their mental health conditions, track their progress, and connect with mental health professionals and peer support communities.

Here are some examples of digital mental health services in Australia:

  1. Headspace: Headspace is a national youth mental health foundation that offers online and in-person mental health support services. Their digital services include online chat and email support, as well as a range of mobile apps that provide information and support for young people with mental health concerns.
  2. MindSpot: MindSpot is a digital mental health clinic that offers online assessment and treatment services for anxiety, depression, and other common mental health concerns. They offer a range of digital treatments, including online courses, phone coaching, and virtual face-to-face therapy sessions.
  3. BetterHelp: BetterHelp is an online counseling and therapy service that provides access to licensed mental health professionals via messaging, phone, or video chat. They offer a range of subscription plans with different levels of support and access to licensed therapists.

Digital mental health is a rapidly growing field that has the potential to improve access to mental health services and support for individuals who may not otherwise be able to receive it.


Case Study and Research Findings: A 2022 Australian research study published in JMIR Mental Health aimed to understand the technologies that young people have access to and use in their everyday lives and what applications of these technologies they are interested in to support their mental health. The study also explored the technologies that youth mental health clinicians currently use within their practice and what applications of these technologies they are interested in to support their clients’ mental health.

Researchers in this project collected data from a total of 588 young people and 73 youth mental health clinicians who completed the survey. Smartphone ownership or private access among young people within mental health services and the general population was universal (611/617, 99%), with high levels of access to computers and social media. Youth technology use was frequent, with 63.3% (387/611) using smartphones several times an hour. Clinicians reported using smartphones (61/76, 80%) and video chat (69/76, 91%) commonly in clinical practice and found them to be helpful.

The result of quantitative data analysis (survey data) enabled researchers to form the below 7 groups that show the diversity of how technology is utilised for the purpose of treating mental health difficulties or accessing to support resources by young people:

1: Web-based self-help (web-based therapy, mental health websites, and web-based employment support)
2: Mobile self-help (apps to support mental health, apps to track mental health, and wearables to track mental health such as smartwatches)
3: Telehealth (video chat with clinician, telephone with clinician, texting with clinician, and mental health support lines)
4: Blended therapy (blended therapy and sharing mental health information with clinicians on the web)
5: Social media (secure social media to connect with young people about mental health and social media to connect with clinicians about mental health)
6: Immersive technologies (VR for mental health strategies, augmented reality for mental health strategies, VR with clinicians, and virtual worlds for mental health groups)
7: Interactive technologies (chatbots for mental health support and digital games for mental health support)

The findings indicate that young people had widespread access to technologies, with 99% (611/617) having access to a smartphone and 63.3% (387/611) using it on average every hour.

Bell et al. 2022

The findings of this research project also suggested that the apps most commonly used by clinicians and young people were those with significant market dominance. A recent app store review by Lau et al [35] found that 90% of mental health app downloads are accounted for by only 4 different apps (Headspace, Calm, Youper, and Wysa). Headspace and Calm were widely used in the current sample, as well as others supporting mindfulness or relaxation, mood tracking, and safety planning

Researchers conclude their findings with making an important statement that these findings provide valuable insights into the perspectives of clinicians and young people as end users of digital mental health technologies and provide a compelling case for further development and expansion of technologies to enhance youth mental health care.

Here at Wellesta, we conclude that Digital Mental Health trends have transformed the landscape of mental health wellbeing for young people in several ways. Some of the significant changes are as follows:

  1. Accessibility: Digital mental health tools have made mental health services more accessible to young adults, regardless of their location or socio-economic status. Online counselling, teletherapy, and mental health apps allow young adults to access mental health support from anywhere, anytime.
  2. Affordability: Digital mental health tools are generally more affordable than traditional in-person therapy sessions, making them more accessible to young adults who may not have the financial means to afford traditional mental health services.
  3. Personalisation: Digital mental health tools allow for more personalized mental health care for young adults. With the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning, these tools can adapt to the user's unique needs and provide tailored support.
  4. Early detection: Digital mental health tools can help detect mental health issues early, allowing young adults to seek help before their conditions worsen. These tools can track behavior patterns and identify changes that may indicate the onset of mental health issues.
  5. Stigma reduction: Digital mental health tools can help reduce the stigma associated with mental health issues, particularly among young adults and in the workplace. These tools provide a more private and discreet way to seek help, which can be less intimidating than traditional mental health services.

In conclusion, we believe that digital mental health trends have transformed the landscape of mental health wellbeing for young adults by making mental health services more accessible, affordable, personalized, and stigma-free. These tools have the potential to revolutionise the way mental health care is delivered, providing young adults with the support they need to improve their mental health and overall wellbeing.

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