May 8, 2020
Mindgardens launches collection drive for phones, tablets and computers for telepsychiatry and mental health support apps while face-to-face consultations are suspended
Sydney mental health specialists are calling on the community to donate unwanted mobile devices that can keep people who experience severe mental illness connected to essential supports via video-conferencing when consultations in person are not available.
â€œWe need to be able to communicate with our clients during the pandemic to provide essential mental health consultations for the prevention and management of their health needs, said Associate Professor Jackie Curtis, the Director of Mindgardens Neuroscience Network, who is leading the project in collaboration with Mission Australia’s Sydney-based mental health services and the Prince of Wales Hospital Foundation. Another critical component will be the social connection provided to alleviate loneliness as we are all confined to our homes.
A/Prof Curtis said pandemic-related closures of health services and community facilities were particularly tough for people with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other severe conditions, who typically depended on familiar support teams for clinical treatment and help with daily living, and were often socially isolated and financially disadvantaged.
Secure video-conference consultations could provide continuity, she said, and help people access group support and manage physical health issues. We’re looking at the whole spectrum from closed Facebook groups to one-on-one consultations with exercise physiologists, and apps such as Black Dog Institute’s online clinics, said A/Prof Curtis.
Donated devices should be in good working condition, internet-enabled, and include a camera, A/Prof Curtis said. Older models were potentially suitable, because the telepsychiatry consultation software runs through a standard browser rather than a dedicated app. Lebara Australia has donated pre-loaded SIM cards to allow the devices to be data-enabled for telehealth consultations. The devices will be made available initially to mental health consumers in the South Eastern Sydney Local Health District catchment.
Because telehealth is a new approach for people who experience severe mental illness, A/Prof Curtis said it would be important to examine people’s responses through a formal trial, and learn how services can be delivered optimally – both during the coronavirus crisis and later when it may be of continuing value. We really have no idea how people with lived experience of mental illness will respond to this, she said. We’re going to train peer workers to help people who might find it challenging to use the devices.
The project would examine how many mental health consumers took up the offer of a device, how many telehealth consultations they joined, and whether they and their treating teams found the process helpful. The results could inform the design of future telehealth services for people with mental health issues, said A/Prof Curtis. This is very much the Mindgardens philosophy, to collaborate with consumers and other partners in shared learning to improve services.
As well as supporting the device donation drive, the Prince of Wales Hospital Foundation is launching an appeal to raise funds to support the emerging telehealth model of care, describing it as, technologically efficient – an investment in future-proofing health-care for our patients.