Computing specialists and mental health professionals are collaborating to create a confidential online community that they hope can provide much-needed support for young people recovering from mental illness.
The web-based forum aims to address a gap in health services available to young people in recovery, following a period of clinical care.
It will provide an adjunct to, not a replacement for, individual care, says Professor Reeva Lederman from the University of Melbourne’s School of Computing and Information Systems.
The forum is part of a four-year, $1.8 million national mental health project funded by the Victorian Government’s Mental Illness Research Fund. The project team includes Dr Greg Wadley, also from the University of Melbourne, and staff from Orygen the National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health, based in Melbourne, and the Australian Catholic University.
Orygen also provides face-to-face mental health support services and the online initiative is being trialled with its clients. If successful, the forum could be expanded as a national mental health initiative.
The internet is a medium young people are familiar with and are comfortable using. As a kind of online therapy group, it’s also convenient to access, Professor Lederman says. The forum is supported by psychologists and provides a controlled online environment.
The way users interact with the content is crucial, she says.
We’ve used professional writers and designers, we have produced videos and introduced elements of gamification to engage users. To be effective, it requires a critical mass of users to create a supportive environment.
Ongoing consultation with Orgyen staff is helping to refine content and user interaction. Content is designed to help young people to monitor their own progress, identify early warning signs and take action. It also allows health professionals to identify when a user might be struggling and to reach out to them.