Rural Aid, for example, says Australian farmers are seeking mental health support at almost twice the rate they were seeking assistance last year.
But Rural Adversity Mental Health Program Coordinator Kate Arndell says new technologies can help close the gap in regional care.
"People living in regional Australia often have different sets of circumstances, different needs and different access, and there's so many resources out there so it's all about matching the individual with the right service," Ms Arndell said.
Working as part of the Hunter New England Local Health District, Ms Arndell and her team run the region's Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP), and she says new technologies can provide a huge benefit to rural patients.
"On our end, we've gotta keep up with it. There's an app for everything, so if mental health care isn't providing enough options for people we have to be prepared to potentially move away from that traditional model of face-to-face counselling," she said.
"My biggest thing is there's lots of options, so it's about choosing the right match for you."
What kinds of resources are available?
Ms Arndell says there is a huge variety of newly-developed resources tailored not only to regional residents, but also specific ones based on diagnosis, demographic, or preferred method of delivery.
"You've got phone lines, online chats, forums for people to tap into and talk with others, lots of different apps and quizzes, online self-paced modules, and separate to those you've got telehealth and video calls," she said.
"A lot of the time your psychologists or your counsellors or even your GPs might recommend one as a complementary therapy."
These resources are especially useful to people in the bush who may be geographically isolated or otherwise limited when it comes to finding help.
"For our regional areas they give us better access to information, the flexibility to access them without driving an hour or longer into town, and can minimise waiting times," Ms Arndell said.
But Ms Arndell also said these new resources have their limits, and emphasised the fact that when it comes to mental health there's no one-size-fits-all approach.
"Some people don't like the online stuff, they don't want to do a video call or access an app, they might prefer that face-to-face model," she said.
"There's also the question of access to IT and technology. It's great if they can get on a Zoom call with a psychologist in Sydney, but if it's going to keep dropping out every five minutes that may not be the right option."
On top of that, it can be difficult to catch someone who's already spiralling into serious forms of anxiety or depression, even with all the technology in the world.
"We know that mental ill-health is a cognitive impairment, so sometimes there are lots of resources, but actually getting the person to find, research, and commit to using it can be difficult," Ms Arndell said.
Changing the approach to mental health
Oftentimes when it comes to improving one's mental health, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure, so for many in the mental health profession the hope is new technologies will help facilitate a cultural shift in our approach to mental healthcare.
"We need to start thinking about our mental health the same way as we think about our physical health. We actively do a lot of things to keep ourselves physically well, keeping our weight down, drinking water, eating healthy, and exercising," Ms Arndell said.
"We do those things because we know they keep us physically well, but we often just assume our mental health and mental wellness will just come naturally."
She said even people who have never struggled with mental illness before can benefit from regular check-ups, and she recommends using the Australian Government's 5-10 minute 'Head to Health' quiz as a "gateway" to finding support.
"The earlier you catch it the faster the improvement," the RAMPH coordinator said.
For general wellness Ms Arndell said apps like Mindgauge or MoodMission are simple ways to help people get started, but she also pointed to E-Mental Health in Practice's Guide to Digital Mental Health Resources as a place to find reputable digital options specific to individual needs.
"A lot of the apps concentrate on the basics, and they are really closely linked to physical health. For example we know exercise is as good for your health as taking a mild to moderate-level antidepressant," she said.
A living example
Tamworth local Emily Carter has been on the AIA Vitality program since 2019.
The program, designed by AIA Insurance Group, uses a mobile phone app to encourage its members to move more, eat well, and complete regular health checks, offering financial incentives to reach health-based targets.
"I heard about their program which is all about incentives to be healthy, which makes sense to me because you're likely to use less insurance if you're healthy," Ms Carter said.
"There are other health checks on the app too, like quarterly mental health checks that also earn you points and are a good reminder to look after yourself."
Using more than three years of data, research by not-for-profit institute RAND Europe showed that using AIA Vitality led to improvements for its members' physical and mental wellbeing.
The study by RAND found that about 10 per cent of members who started out overweight moved into a healthy BMI range within two years, and nearly 50 per cent of members experiencing mental health distress at moved into a "low" distress range within 2-years.
Ms Carter said she hasn't struggled too much with mental health in the past, but she says the program has helped her develop a consistent and structured approach to her overall wellbeing.
"It's helped me to be consistent. There used to be weeks where I was too busy, whereas this makes me get up every morning to do some exercise," she said.
"I find for myself and my sanity I need to exercise. I always feel much better after exercising so making sure that it's consistent helps me ensure I can be in a good frame of mind all the time."
In the mental health space, Ms Arndell said she expects more programs like AIA Vitality to keep popping up as technology continues to change our approach to wellbeing.
"It's a benefit to governments, workplaces, and insurance companies to look after people's mental health. They're getting a return on investment because the healthier we are the more likely we are to be productive in society," the RAMHP coordinator said.
"It saves them money in the long term to catch people at that early intervention stage and give them some tools and resources to keep themselves well."
So where do I start?
While the sheer amount of resources available may be overwhelming, Ms Arndell said the most important thing is to find something that works for you and is backed by scientific evidence.
"We would never want people to engage in things that are going to be dangerous for them, so being conscious of where that app or that link or that forum has come from, or whether it's attached to a university or professional institution, is very important," she said.
Lastly, she said it's also important to be able to recognise when an app or online system isn't working for you, and she encourages anyone who finds they feel worse after engaging with an online resource not to give up, and to look for another app, forum, or other resource better suited to your needs.
- Support is available for those who may be distressed. Phone Lifeline 13 11 14; Men's Referral Service 1300 776 491; Kids Helpline 1800 551 800; Beyond Blue 1300 224 636.
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