How can mobile technologies change the face of mental health? How can we use apps to improve the health and wellbeing of our communities?


Mental Health


The annual cost associated with mental health is estimated to be around $20 billion in Australia, and it is no secret that mental health problems are common, difficult and costly. One in four Australians between the ages of 16 and 24 are living with a mental disorder and 45% of all Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Despite the challenges, this is a huge opportunity for the Australian health community to apply powerful and thoughtful technologies to prevent and manage mental health issues.


At the September Global Ideas Lab, Mental Health and Technology, attendees had the opportunity to learn about current online and app-based technologies to improve mental health outcomes.  Demonstrations and a lively discussion with the great minds behind these technologies followed on from this, about how we can address and improve the future of mental wellbeing.


Lab speakers


David Bakker – Doctor of Clinical Psychology at Monash University. Dr Bakker is involved in the research team that developed the mood-tracking app MoodPrism and has since founded his own company to develop the mental health coping skills app, MoodMission.


Ben Fulcher and Bec Martin – Ben Fulcher is a NHMRC Early Career Fellow at the Brain and Mental Health Laboratory at Monash Institute for Clinical and Cognitive Neurosciences. Bec Martin is a Developer Evangelist at Xero. They are helping to develop MICCN SurveyKit, a new platform, which allows researchers to quickly generate survey-based apps using a web interface, and deploy them to native iOS and Android devices


Glen Melvin – clinical psychologist and senior lecturer at the Monash University Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology. With colleagues from beyondblue, he developed a smartphone app named BeyondNow, which aims to help people cope during suicidal crisis.


Lili Morgan – with a Masters in Public Health, Lili has worked in sustainable tourism, global advocacy and now is based with Smiling Mind, a unique not for profit with web and app-based programs designed to bring mindfulness to the masses.


James Stewart – an ex-smoker who struggled to quit smoking until unlocking the solution – competitiveness! He set out to build, an app that taps into social networks to help smokers quit.




Solutions and key Insights from our panelists


What are the benefits of these apps?


Apps are affordable, accessible and confidential. BeyondNow gives the user access to support such as family and mental health professionals, during a suicidal crisis. Smiling Mind recognises that educating school age children can enhance mental wellbeing and build resilience for future generations, and has developed resources to have mental health introduced into the school curriculum. Although technology doesn’t completely solve issues of inequity or replace the role of mental health professionals, app-based technologies can assist users by finding them the support and professional help they may require.


What makes a great app?


The most effective applications combine the rigour of excellent research and the usability of award winning technology with multidisciplinary collaboration. Champions with industry knowledge can negotiate between researchers and developers to find mutually beneficial outcomes, build trust, broker knowledge and get the best result.


What are the ethical implications?


App developers must ensure that user privacy is not compromised in the process of commercialisation, data collection and automation. It’s possible that data tracking can be used to target inappropriate advertising such as anti-depressants and in-app intervention strategies that may cause harm instead of improving wellbeing. Also, who is liable if a person becomes seriously ill while using the app? And how will automation of mental health services change the role of the mental health professionals?  Online forums and treatments for mental health have been available for some time with varied success rates. Targeted and thoughtful applications will enhance and improve these and deliver creative and scientific solutions for a positive social impact on our communities.


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Ruwani De Silva

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