Mental Health Forums Breaking Down Barriers to Support
10 October 2018 at 5:00 pm
A charity leader is encouraging rural people to harness mobile technology to get mental health support, as Australians increasingly turn towards online forums to seek help.
The SANE Australia forums – established in 2015 in partnership with 65 other mental health and community organisations – have grown from 65,301 users in its first year to over 260,000 people.
Users of the forums are both people seeking support from others who have experienced mental health issues, and carers, family and friends needing support from those who know what it’s like living with someone who has a mental illness.
The forums are also monitored by mental health professionals at all times to ensure user safety.
SANE Australia CEO Jack Heath told Pro Bono News the benefits of the forums included helping to reduce the stigma and discrimination of mental health, encouraging one another to get help when they needed it, and helping loved ones understand their condition better.
Heath said they had found people in rural areas were turning to mobile technology for support as there was a lack of mental health services in the area.
“A little while ago we had a mother send us a message saying that her 26 year old daughter had just been diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder. They really wanted to help her get her life back in order, but they were two hours away from the hospital she was being treated at,” Heath said.
“They honestly thought they were the only ones, but then they spent time on forums and it taught them more about their condition and connected them with other people who were going through the same thing.”
Former AFL player and SANE ambassador Mark Eustice, said while he hadn’t used the online forums himself, he wished they had been available when he was battling through 25 years of an undiagnosed chronic bipolar disorder.
“It would have been enormous for me back in my day, and in my footy days too. The attitude was always stop feeling sorry for yourself and pull your socks up. We all know that doesn’t work,” Eustice told Pro Bono News.
“These forums are so important, because they are anonymous and it means people aren’t embarrassed talking about the things they are going through.”
Heath also said partnerships and collaboration between organisations was a vital part of the forums’ success.
Many of the organisations they now partnered with saw the importance of peer-to-peer support, but didn’t have the technological means or didn’t know how to go about setting up an online community.
“I think we have now got it at a level where we’re actually delivering real service to people across communities but also supporting mental health organisations that wouldn’t have had the know-how or the funding to be able to build those communities themselves,” Heath said.
He said SANE were in the process of collating data on a geographical basis to understand what exactly the concerns were for those in rural areas with mental health issues, which could then be used to tailor support programs to the area.
“As we build up the traffic in terms of the number of people using the service we’re going to have good real-time data in terms of some of the most pressing mental health issues,” he said.
The main goal for SANE currently, especially as part of mental health week, was encouraging people from rural areas to sign up, so they could tap into the valuable resource that was right in front of them.
“It’s about trying to transform what might have been a very difficult journey for many people in a way that could also benefit others,” Heath said.