App advocates action on mental health

03/10/2016 - 12:13

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A WA company has plans to disrupt the current mental health landscape with its new interactive app.

App advocates action on mental health
GET IN EARLY: Philippa Vojnovic (left) and Susanne Bahn believe there should be more of a focus on early intervention strategies within the mental health services sector. Photo: Attila Casszar

A WA company has plans to disrupt the current mental health landscape with its new interactive app.

Years of evidence-based research and clinical practice are behind a new game and quiz that aims to remove the stigma surrounding mental health, and encourage early intervention strategies.

Mental health awareness and evaluation application All of Me, which is accessible via computer or tablet, was launched earlier this year with assistance from local startup Tap into Safety, a workplace safety app.

All of Me national manager and 2016 40under40 winner Philippa Vojnovic, who brings more than 18 years’ experience within the mental health sector to her role, said a recent (Insurance Commission of WA) report revealed 614 mental stress claims in Western Australia in 2015-16 had payouts totalling $36.8 million.

“Many struggle with mental health issues by themselves for months, years or decades before reaching out for support,” Ms Vojnovic told Business News.

“Governments are under constant pressure to increase the funding for mental health services and programs, yet there is a lack of available and effective early intervention strategies.”

More than 3,000 Australians took their own life in 2015, according to the latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Intentional self-harm was also identified as the leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 15-24 years.

At least eight high school students in Perth had committed suicide this year, Ms Vojnovic said.

“It’s a ticking time bomb,” All of Me chief executive Sue Bahn told Business News.

“We have to teach people about what mental health looks like, what to do about it, the coping strategies … and we need to de-stigmatise it.”

All of Me has developed a workplace and education application that presents users with a series of stick figure animation scenarios and suggests coping strategies for issues such as bullying, cyber bullying, work overload, relationship breakdown, stress, substance abuse and inclusivity.

Dr Bahn said using animations to approach mental health was less confrontational.

“Our aim is to empower the individual to manage issues themselves in the early stages, to put some early intervention strategies in place before it escalates,” she said.

The application also includes a series of 21 questions drawn from the DASS21 (Depression Anxiety Stress Scale) psychological assessment, where users are provided with prompts to seek further assistance depending on these results.

User identity is anonymous, however the relevant workplace or school can receive reports of aggregated data.

An All of Me pilot program was held at three WA high schools over the course of the most recent school term, involving around 230 students from years seven and eight (aged 11-13).

The trial lasted six weeks and revealed that 24 per cent of students showed signs of stress, 32 per cent depression and 44 per cent anxiety. Ms Vojnovic said the consequences of poor mental health for young people included increased risk of suicide.

“There is a call to action to do more to bring mental stress levels down,” she said.

“We want to do our part to provide this.”

Funded by an accelerating commercialisation grant and Tap into Safety, Dr Bahn hopes to attract sponsors to the project.

While the workplace app will charge a licensing fee, Dr Bahn said the education app would be free so that any school, regardless of budget, could access it.

This week All of Me was awarded $20,000 funding from the government run Start IT Up WA challenge and Dr Bahn said it would use the funds to build its next model  - a parent and carer iPhone app.

 

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