Friday, June 13, 2008

National Mental Health Agenda

I attended the Grace Groom Memorial Lecture at the National Press Club this week as the guest of Medicines Australia.

Dr Grace Groom was the former CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia. Dr Groom died in 2006. She made a strong contribution to mental health reform in Australia and this is recognised each year by an annual Grace Groom Memorial Lecture Series, organised by the Mental Health Council of Australia.

The Hon Nicola Roxon MP, the Minister for Health and the Minister responsible for mental health was the guest speaker for the 2008 Memorial Lecture.

The Minister outlined the Government's reform agenda for mental health and announced funding for a range of projects. She also announced the members of the new Advisory Council on Mental Health, to be led by former head of the Mental Health Council, John Mendoza. The Pdf of the media release is available on the DOHA website.

The speech was in keeping with the Government's commitment to early intervention and prevention that was outlined earlier this year. In April the Government established a new National Preventative Health Task Force, made up of health experts from around Australia. The task force is to develop strategies to tackle the health challenges caused by tobacco, alcohol and obesity, and develop a National Preventative Health Strategy by June 2009.

One of the ideas that interested me was the increased use of technology to help people better manage their mental health and wellbeing.

The Black Dog Institute will receive $1.8 million for a mobile tracker system that uses the internet and mobile phones to help people track their wellbeing in areas including mood, appetite, sleep, medication, physical activity, and drug and alcohol use. The information is fed back to the users on how they are going, and alerts are sent when things aren’t going well, along with links to appropriate self-help tools.

The example given is a woman reporting that she has been feeling anxious and not sleeping well. The system would send her an alert pointing to tools for managing anxiety and giving tips for sleeping better. The alert may also recommend discussing the issues with a GP or clinician. Reports can be printed off so that consumers can take them to their clinicians.

There is another project run through Swinburne University of Technology for Anxiety Online — an online program helping people with anxiety disorders work through a module of cognitive behaviour therapy, either independently or with the assistance of a trained therapist.

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