Kiwis are increasingly turning to online mental health services for support as they grapple with the uncertainty caused by the shutdown.
The new figures show that acceptance of digital mental health services increased substantially last year during Covid and that demand is already increasing again.
New Zealand Health IT (NZHIT) CEO Ryl Jensen said the study looked at uptake of two free online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) services, Just a Thought in New Zealand and This Way UP in Australia.
Most users took self-guided courses for anxiety and depressive symptoms.
Data from New Zealand showed a 630 percent increase in website visits and a 185 percent increase in course enrollment over the close of last year.
Among healthcare workers, there was a 144 percent increase in enrollment and a 65 percent increase in prescribed courses for healthcare workers.
Jensen said the results highlighted the usefulness of digital mental health services, particularly in times of greatest distress.
“With a level four lockdown again, New Zealanders can expect the use of digital mental health services to continue to grow as people seek support to overcome this period of instability.”
While there were tools that people could access if they needed urgent help, such as the 1737 helpline, online therapy services allowed people to start a journey of self-improvement immediately.
“You can answer a few questions and start doing cognitive behavioral therapy and you can take small courses through an app.”
Digital mental health tools supplemented the overburdened healthcare system and he wanted GPs to recommend the services as an early intervention tool for those who need support with their mental well-being, Jensen said.
“It’s about being able to have accessible tools right there when I need them, rather than being told there is a three-month waiting list and I can’t get it during that time.”
Mental health clinic Anna Elders, who also leads the Just a Thought tool, said there has been an increase in people wanting to find their own solutions when it comes to seeking mental health help.
“People were not just looking for the tools, but we were seeing substantial drops in their distress levels.”
Since the shutdown was announced on Tuesday, there has already been an increase in the number of people accessing the Just A Thought website.
The service allowed people to access structured cognitive-behavioral therapy courses with a focus on depression, generalized anxiety, and obsessive compulsive disorder.
It included lessons that focused on people’s own experiences, then they used cognitive behavioral therapy to develop the skills to cope with their own challenges.
“I think one of the things we struggle with the most as human beings is uncertainty and we have a lot of it right now,” Elders said.
For people who had already been struggling, the confinement could isolate and aggravate fears about their health, the health of those close to them, and how long this could last.
While it was not intended to replace face-to-face therapy with a doctor, Elders said there was evidence showing that e-CBT could be as effective as face-to-face treatment.
“The reality is that we need to reach more people, we need to expand services, but we also need to provide services with a variety of options, which can be accessed independently without depending on a referral from the GP or whoever.” .
Online services offered flexibility for those who were unable to see a doctor during working hours or faced a waiting list of months.
A blended course on anxiety and depression was about to be launched in Just a Thought and there were plans to develop more courses to address coping with pain, insomnia and mental health for young people, along with a course from Te Ao’s perspective. Maori.
There were a number of other “really brilliant tools” available in New Zealand, including the Melon online program that enables people to regain their health, the Mentemia app, co-founded by Sir John Kirwan, trains people to improve their mental well-being while The Small Steps online tool helps people manage stress, calm their mind and improve their mood, and Clearhead, a wellness assistant with a focus on mental health, said.
The seniors hoped to support the Ministry of Health to develop an ecosystem of digital tools and services that would work for those experiencing long-term mental health problems and physical conditions.
“We are all looking to work together and make sure that we are developing tools that suit a large number of people or a large number of challenges and we are creating something quite new and innovative specifically for New Zealand culture.”
New Zealand was just beginning to realize the potential of digital health services to increase access to mental health support, he said.