AUSTRALIA, 11 January 2021: While levels of anxiety and depression will decline over time as the COVID-19 virus is contained, many Australians such as health care and essential workers, quarantine travellers, and those who suffer the long-term side effects will be impacted by this immediate pandemic and are at increased risk of enduring mental health problems.
In 2020, the Australian Government stepped up a range of services to the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) to enable clinicians (GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists and allied health workers) to deliver mental care health services via ‘telehealth ‘channels – telephone and video conferencing. In September 2020, the number of services delivered was 14.5% higher than the previous year. Telehealth services reached their peak in the week ending 26 April 2020 when half (49.9%) of MBS mental health services were provided remotely (source: aihw.gov.au).
1 in 8 Australians (2.4 million) experience high or very high psychological distress, an increase from 2014-15 (2.1 million). Source: aihw.gov.au.
Health care technology trends
Building digital literacy, trust and accessibility to devices (or the internet) will be key when ensuring the safe expansion of digital health and increasing access to those who need it most. See the below trends and our very own ECC technology below.
- Hybrid digital health: in 2021 we can expect to see new care models such as digital clinics mindspot.org.au and virtualclinic.org.au which support live visits (video or in-person) and integrated clinical support with new technologies and apps.
- Prioritising employee health: organisations must invest in developing and/or promoting modern and accessible mental health resources, programs and tools and team leaders must be upskilled on how to support their staff. ECC’s Human Transformation Technology (HTT) focuses on transforming human behaviour. It applies neuropsychology, a discipline that studies brain-behaviour relationships, to ensure solutions are more effective, purposeful, personalised, flexible, social and responsive to the ethical challenges introduced by emerging technologies. Read more about ECC’s Behavioural change technology.
- Return to work apps: providing the reassurance to employees that they work within a safe place, will be critical in fulfilling health and safety requirements. Read more about ECC’s COVID-19 Safe Work Return App.
- Video-consultations and telepsychiatry: integrating digital data from smartphones and wearable technology (such as smart-watches) will be normalised in health care.
- Patient digital records: increased accessibility, treatment plans, coordination and visibility across health care providers. Government Health Agencies such as digitalhealth.gov.au are encouraging Australians to connect online, as digital innovation becomes a vital part of a modern and accessible healthcare system.
- Digital mental health apps: Smiling Mind, The Check-in, ReachOut Worry Time, HealthSpace and Black Dog Snapshot enable positive self-help, however, they cannot replace human-to-human engagement and guidance.
Post-pandemic mental health predictions
While we were not prepared for the gravity of an immediate global pandemic and the effects on our physical and mental health, there are similarities we can predict from other large-scale crises. In Australia, the July 30 Productivity Commission report compared similar ‘scarring’ impacts that young people suffered as a result of the 2008 Great Recession: a ‘lost decade’ of income growth, decline in occupational choices, employment quality and quantity, and a greater exposure to future economic shocks across their lifetime (source: pc.gov.au).
Australian mental health organisation Black Dog Institute reported that the common consequence of disease outbreaks includes anxiety and panic, depression, anger, confusion and uncertainty, and financial stress. They estimated 25%-33% of the community are experienced high levels of worry and anxiety during similar pandemics (source: blackdoginstitute.org.au).
Getting the right support
If you or someone you know needs help immediately, there’s free assistance available around the clock. Please call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36 or headspace on 1800 650 890.