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Kiwis flocking to digital mental health services

New Zealand Health IT chief executive Ryl Jensen. Supplied photo.

New research has found a significant increase in the number of New Zealanders turning to digital health services for support during Covid.

The uptake of digital mental health services substantially increased last year during Covid according to new research, New Zealand Health IT chief executive Ryl Jensen says.

The study looked at the uptake of two online cognitive behavioural therapy services, This Way UP in Australia and Just a Thought in New Zealand.

Research findings relating to the New Zealand tool Just a Thought showed most users undertook self-guided courses for anxiety and depressive symptoms.

The results highlight the utility and scalability of digital mental health services, particularly during times of heightened distress in our population.

“With a level four lockdown back again, New Zealanders can expect the use of digital mental health services to continue to grow as people seek support to get through this period of instability,” says Jensen.

NZHT supports digital mental health services which provide accessible psychological supports and interventions that can supplement existing mental health services. 

Just a Thought wanted to explore how New Zealanders used their service through Covid and reports they have reached more than 30,000 registrations since their launch less than two years ago.

The major findings from the New Zealand data below overwhelmingly show investment in digital wellbeing services during Covid paid-off:

• 630 per cent increase in website views 

• 185 per cent increase in course registrations 

• 144 per cent increase in healthcare worker registering 

• 65 per cent increase in healthcare worker prescribed courses  

Chair of NZHIT’s e-mental health industry group, and clinical lead for Just a Thought, Anna Elders, says New Zealand is only beginning to realise the potential digital health services provide in greatly increasing access to mental health support.

“We recognise the remarkable mahi of our frontline healthcare workers, who are pioneering the use of digital tools along with face-to-face or virtual care. We hope digital tools will continue to grow and be recognised as a key service for early intervention and support in mental health and addiction services."

Concerns about the mental health impact of the global health crisis has been widespread. The study examined the use of the service before and during the early pandemic period.

The number of users accessing digital mental health services increased after covid arrived yet the demographic and clinical characteristics of course participants remain stable. 

The findings underscore how nimble and scalable these services can be during periods of high demand.

The Just a Thought digital mental health service provides free access to evidence-based cognitive behavioural therapy courses and psychological support for New Zealanders.

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