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Pandemic Prompts Thousands To Use EMental Health Tools

Thousands of Kiwis are using eMental Health tools to deal with stress, anxiety and other issues related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A range of eMental health support was rolled out across New Zealand after the first Covid-19 outbreak, with Ministry of Health funding confirmed until October.

In mid-April the government announced that digital tools Mentemia, Melon and Staying on Track were being funded by the initial $500m Covid-19 response health package. Other digital services have also been funded, such as the Getting through together campaign, Youthline and the Aroha chatbot.

All services contacted by eHealthNews.nz report a significant surge in uptake and reach and experts believe the digital transformation in delivery of mental health and wellness services will be sustained long-term.

Staying on Track

Staying on Track uses cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) to teach practical strategies to cope with issues related to Covid-19, such as managing worry, sleep issues and ‘thought challenging’.

Just a Thought clinical lead Anna Elders says Staying on Track is the first course the organisation has created from scratch.

It was launched three weeks into lockdown and within one week, 1000 people had registered and over the next 5-6 weeks had more than 100,000 page views.

“Uptake and interest has been high for both users and clinicians. There’s no doubt that one of the silver linings of Covid-19 is that it’s put eMental Health in the spotlight as it’s been a massive part of different countries’ responses,” says Elders.

She believes this is the start of a long-term transformation of delivery of mental health and wellbeing services.

“People who haven’t been exposed to this before, whether telehealth or an online course, are often surprised at how much they like it and clinicians find the same thing.”

While previously there had been some reluctance from clinicians to embrace online therapy options, in many cases concerns have been swept away by the Covid-crisis.

Elders says people enjoy the flexibility and choice that online options bring, but says it will never replace face-to-face therapy. It also helps with ongoing issues of fear and stigma around engaging mental health services.

Mentemia

Mentemia was co-created by All Blacks legend and long-time mental health advocate Sir John Kirwan and provides users with practical tips and techniques to help them take control of their mental wellbeing.

The platform was publicly released in April and more than 62,000 people have now downloaded the app.

Kirwan says one of the major drivers underpinning Ministry of Health support for Mentemia and the other tools was that they recognised the need to identify innovative ways of reaching people.

“Using technology is an effective, scalable way to do that,” he says.

“Digital first self-care solutions like Mentemia raise awareness about the importance of mental wellbeing. But then also provide easy, accessible and approachable ways to educate and action things that can really help individuals feel better and be a better partner, colleague and supporter.

Kirwan believes we will see a proliferation of digital first mental health support options in the coming years.

Fiona Crichton, health psychology specialist and clinical team lead at Mentemia says lockdown was and is again a catalyst for many people and businesses to begin using the app, as stress, anxiety and worry are dialled up during uncertain times.

She says there is more awareness about the importance of mental wellbeing since the arrival of Covid-19 and there has also been a big shift from talking about mental health to more of a focus on mental wellbeing.

Melon

Melon provides a health journal, resources and self-awareness tools to help people manage their emotional wellbeing. Melon also provides an online community for New Zealanders to connect and support each other and daily webinars for health and wellbeing.

Melon chief executive Siobhan Bulfin tells eHealthNews.nz the platform has had around 800,000 users of the Melon Manual emotional wellness resources for youth, and supporters of youth such as teachers, and around 3,000 people have gone through the specific Covid programme.

Key issue users are dealing with include generalised anxiety related to fear of coronavirus re-emerging and financial stress such as loss of jobs, insomnia and relationship issues.

Getting through together

The government’s first announcement in the eMental health space was funding for the ‘Getting through together’ campaign, developed by All Right?, which shares ways to help Kiwis cope with the stress of Covid-19.

It is a social marketing campaign devised and supported by three organisations - Mental Health Foundation, Community & Public Health of CDHB and Te Hiringa Hauora/HPA.

Ciaran Fox, mental health promotion strategist at All Right? says the campaign used the government funding to “devise, design, distribute and advertise the crafted content, resources and messages across the whole of Aotearoa, grow and maintain active social media communities and promote community initiatives where appropriate.”

After only a few months, a survey showed the campaign had already achieved 37% recall in the survey sample and of those, 65% agreed that it made them think more about their well-being and 61% agreed that they would do something about their well-being and the campaign was of particular value to Māori.

“The funding runs out at the end of September but of course things continue to develop and Covid-19 and its associated stressors are still with us for the foreseeable future,” says Fox.

Getting through together includes tools for parents, dubbed Sparklers at Home, which provides support for parents to talk with their primary-school aged children about their own mental health and wellbeing.

Aroha

Funding has also been provided for a chatbot called Aroha that is designed to help young people cope with stress. Aroha uses the Facebook messenger app to provide practical, evidence-based tools to manage stress, ideas to maintain social connection, and ways to stay active using youth-friendly digital activities.

Aroha is aimed at 13-25-year-olds and is a joint collaboration from researchers from the University of Auckland and A Better Start - E Tipu e Rea National Science Challenge and Auckland based design and technology studio RUSH.

Other initiatives

In May, the former Health Minister David Clark also announced $3.5 million in funding for organisations supporting vulnerable people to provide additional mental health support, much of which was online.

This included Changing Minds which launched wellbeing sessions via video conference and the #BestBubble campaign run by the NZ Drug Foundation.

The government also set up a phone counselling service for health staff who needed extra mental health support during the crisis, which was funded for nine months.

Later that month, the government announced funding for Youthline to ramp up its web chat function so young people can talk one-to-one with a real person if they feel they need some help.

In June, funding was announced to boost mental health and wellbeing support for the Asian community, including extending the Asian Family Services Helpline hours and online counselling support.

Join our free eHealthNews.nz Live Webinar on eMental Health and the pandemic at 12.30pm on Wednesday September 2 with speakers; Robyn Shearer, MoH deputy director-general, Mental Health and Addiction; Anil Thapliyal, executive director, eMental Health International Collaborative; Karolina Stasiak, senior lecturer and senior research fellow, Auckland University; and Terry Fleming, senior lecturer in population health at Victoria University of Wellington.

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