$6.5M funding over the years 2012-13 to 2015-16 is available to establish a virtual mental health clinic.
The Australian Government is committed to delivering a mental health system that gives Australians with mental disorders timely access to support and treatment, the best chance to recover, stabilise and stay well in the community. One of the Government’s major responsibilities in the mental health sector is to support primary mental health care, which is largely targeted to the needs of over two million people with high prevalence, low to moderate severity mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. Through the provision of the right mix of well-connected services in their local community, many people with less persistent symptoms and less-complex needs can recover quickly and stay well.
E-Mental Health involves the delivery of mental health services by telephone, mobile phone and through online applications to extend the reach of mental health service support. E-Mental Health services can range from provision of health information, self-driven virtual therapy programs, and real time interaction via telephone or online with clinicians trained to assist people experiencing mental disorders.
Australia has led the way in developing online, largely automated Cognitive Behavioural Therapy based (CBT) programs, and research has shown them to be as effective as traditional face to face, CBT care for mild to moderate anxiety and depression.
Since 2006, the Australian Government has invested $70.4 million in the Teleweb program, developing and providing several online CBT based programs and support for telephone and online crisis support. These Teleweb projects include telephone crisis helplines, online counselling, web based self-help, peer support resources, self-directed online treatment modules and therapist-assisted treatment services. In recognition of the benefits of this alternative mental health service environment the Australian Government announced as part of its Mental Health Reform Package development of an E-Mental Health Strategy and an increased investment in E-Mental Health through funding for three related projects:
- Development and establishment of a national mental health portal to provide a single gateway for users to authoritative information and access to evidence based on line therapies. It also provides a platform for new programs as they are developed and are able to demonstrate their effectiveness. This portal was launched in July 2012 as mindhealthconnect. It provides a simple and easy way for users to connect to online tools, information and programs. The portal can be accessed at www.mindhealthconnect.org.au.
- Establishment of an online virtual clinic that provides evidence-based CBT. This service is different to the existing online CBT programs in that it provides real time online counselling or phone counselling with a trained CBT counsellor. This service is now operational and will assist approximately 37,500 people with mild to moderate anxiety and depression over the next three years, free of charge to the consumer. The virtual clinic can be accessed at www.mindspot.org.au, via telephone at 1800 61 44 34, or via the portal at mindhealthconnect.org.au.
- The establishment of an E-Mental Health Support Service (the Support Service) will play a key role in the promotion of online services and adoption of these innovative services by the primary health care sector. It is intended this service will work with primary health care providers to promote online services and develop strong linkages between the two sectors. The service will also have a role in supporting health care providers using these online services, and provide advice to the Australian Government on future development of the E-Mental Health sector. The service will also develop training and support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers and for other health professionals who are providing mental health services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in rural and remote areas.
These three projects build on the initial investment through the Teleweb program and are the cornerstones of the Government’s E-Mental Health Strategy (available at www.health.gov.au), which aims to provide easy access to effective online psychological therapies and to establish this online environment as a recognised and regular part of the primary health care system.
The E-Mental Health Strategy will be enhanced through the rollout of the National Broadband Network, which will improve access to online services nationwide and in future will allow greater scope and functionality for the provision of online mental health services.
The objectives in funding the e-Mental Health Virtual Clinic service include:
- Engage general practitioners and allied health professionals, delivering face to face primary care, in using new technologies for patients who have been diagnosed with mild to moderate anxiety and depression.
- Facilitate referral pathways between primary health care providers and E-Mental Health therapies and programs.
- Provide specialised training and support in the provision of these E-Mental Health therapies and associated technologies, to Aboriginal and Torres Straight Island Health Workers and to health care providers in rural and remote areas providing services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in using new online therapies.
- Provide workforce support in the use of these new services; and
- Advise the Australian Government on the most effective ways to support this growing treatment environment.
The E-Mental Health Support Service is a key part of the Government’s E-Mental Health Strategy. The support service will:
- Build linkages between online mental health services and face to face primary health care providers;
- Provide knowledge, information and support to health care providers using online E-Mental Health therapies and programs; and
- Provide advice to the Australian Government on the uptake of online mental health therapies, programs and technology.
Projects related to e-Mental Health Virtual Clinic should have the following outcomes:
- Increased uptake and use of online therapies within Australia through increased referral from primary health care providers to online mental health therapies and programs.
- Improved knowledge and understanding of online therapies amongst the primary health care workforce, including Aboriginal Health Workers.
- Improved care pathways for consumers using face to face and online services.
- Aboriginal Health Workers and clinicians working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in rural and remote areas have access to professional support for the use of online therapies for their clients.
- The provision of advice to the Australian Government on the uptake and use of new technologies in the E-Mental Health field.
To be considered for funding Applicants will be required to provide the following services:
- Promote the online mental health environment to primary health care professionals to facilitate appropriate referral pathways;
- Provide knowledge, information and support for primary health care providers on technological implications and clinical application of online mental health therapies;
- Provided e-based specialised mental health support for Aboriginal Health Workers and ongoing professional support to other clinicians in rural and remote areas providing services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in using new online therapies; and
- Provide advice to the department on future development of the sector, including opportunities to link with broader digital productivity initiatives such as the construction of the National Broadband Network.
Organisations applying for funding under the E-Mental Health Support Service program must be prepared to meet the costs associated with developing and lodging their applications. Applicants should ensure that all information they provide is accurate.
The department encourages applications from individual organisations, partnerships or consortia to deliver activities under the E-Mental Health Support Service program. The department would prefer to enter into contractual arrangements with a single legal entity under this program. Where two or more entities seek funding as a consortium, a member entity or a newly created entity must be appointed as the lead member and only that organisation will enter into any subsequent contractual relationship with the department. The lead entity must be identified in any application for funding and that application should identify all members of the proposed consortium.
For legal and accountability reasons, only incorporated bodies are eligible to apply for funding under this program. The types of organisations that may apply for funding include:
- Non-Government Organisations;
- University Faculties;
- Health professional organisations;
- Mental health provider organisations with an understanding of the online environment;
- Organisations with expertise in the mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people or other cultural minorities; or
- Collaborations comprising at least two (2) of the above categories.
$6.5M funding over the years 2012-13 to 2015-16 is available to establish a virtual mental health clinic.
Application for thee-Mental Health Virtual Clinic closes 2 April 2013.
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Mental Health Portal
The Australian Government has provided funds to the National Health Call Centre Network (NHCCN) Ltd for mental health activities and has agreed $12 million will be allocated to develop a national online mental health Portal. The Portal will provide a single gateway for users to the existing teleweb services and provide a platform for new programs as they are developed and are able to demonstrate their effectiveness. These online psychological therapy programs range from self-directed programs to those with real time therapist assistance. The Portal will be well signposted and provide a user friendly entry point to these programs and phone based crisis support services as well as information. Development of the Portal is being progressed with advice from the Department’s e-Mental Health Expert Advisory Committee. It is expected to commence operations on 1 July 2012. Development of the Portal will continue beyond that date and will include new functionality, programs and information.
Under the Australian Government’s 2010 election commitment – Mental Health: Taking Action To Tackle Suicide funding is being provided to ‘Expand Online Mental Health Counselling Services’ by establishing a Virtual Clinic. The Virtual Clinic services will complement face-to-face mental health support and the existing automated online Teleweb programs which will be available through the e-mental health Portal. The clinic will employ allied mental health workers and psychiatrists, and will have the capacity to escalate care in high needs cases. In addition to self help support, clinician assisted online real time counselling will be delivered to people with high prevalence mental disorders via online real time cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programs. These services will constitute a Virtual Clinic.
e-Mental Health Central Support Centre
An e-Mental Health Central Support Centre (CSC) will offer advice on clinical governance and play an advisory role in respect of the services available through the Portal. The CSC will also provide support for the on-line environment through:
- quality assurance on services and information that will be available through the Portal;
- the promotion of online mental health therapy services within primary mental health care; and
- on-line specialised mental health training and support for Aboriginal Health Workers and clinicians working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
e-Mental Health Links with Primary Health Care
It is important that strong links are developed with primary health care to embed online mental health services, so they become a routine form of treatment and referral pathways.
E-mental health is a rapidly growing area that will benefit from a planned and organised expansion. The National e-Mental Health Strategy (the Strategy), is currently being developed with advice from the department’s e-Mental Health Expert Advisory Committee. The Strategy will provide guidance in scaling up existing services and new technologies so that a mature e-mental health service system is built and maintained, offering high quality services to consumers and carers in an online environment.