The auDA Foundation's support for Internet projects promoting mental health and wellbeing

By Zarleen Blakeley, Community Programs and Communications Officer

People of all ages and backgrounds are turning to the Internet for information and support for mental health challenges, or to improve their general psychological wellbeing.  

For young people, especially, online connections can be as real and beneficial as face-to-face catch ups with friends.  Mobile apps targeting youth health are affordable and accessible, and online support websites can provide a sense of belonging and reassurance that you're "not the only one" with a mental health issue.

The recent suicide of comedian Robin Williams prompted widespread, online expressions of grief and disbelief that someone who had brought so much laughter to the world was also privately suffering with depression and addiction.  People shared on social media not only their thoughts on the loss of a well-loved celebrity but on their personal experiences with mental illness.  Social media responded in turn, with information on crisis support, such as: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jennaguillaume/ways-you-can-get-help-for-mental-illness-in-australia.

In the past few years, the auDA Foundation has received a growing number of grant applications for mental health initiatives.  In Australia, and worldwide, people are creating innovative online resources to support mental health, including:
•    Online counselling
•    Online self-help programs
•    E-health information portals
•    Mental health apps targeting young people
•    Peer support websites

In 2013, the auDA Foundation funded two mental health projects (of a total of 14 grant recipients).  Since the auDA Foundation's first funding round in 1996, we have supported 8 grant recipients who have carried out research and set up resources which utilise the Internet to improve the mental health and wellbeing of Australians.

•    La Trobe University - Development of Cool Little Kids Online: preventing anxiety problems in young children (2013)
•    St Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne - Development of a framework for a reputable E-mental health information portal for CALD Australian consumers and carers (2013)
•    Hello Sunday Morning - HSM Phase 2.0 (2012)
•    Prahran Mission UnitingCare - Voices Unplugged (2012)
•    Griffith University - Self-Harm, Help-Seeking and the Internet – Informing Online Service Provision for Young People (2012)
•    SANE Australia - Rural Worker Training in Mental Health (2011)
•    SANE Australia - The itsallright.org Online Helpline Service for young people with a family member with a mental illness (2009)
•    Alzheimer's Australia Vic - Dementia Risk Reduction e-Learning Project (2008)

Check out the Grant Recipients and the Knowledge Centre pages of our website for more information about auDA Foundation-funded projects.

In 2011, SANE Australia worked with Fire & Rescue NSW to provide a 12-month Mindful Employer e-Learning program to improve the mental health of their fire-fighters.  The program was so well-received that Fire & Rescue NSW has kept the program going with their own funding.

“It helped to recognise someone with a problem and showed me how to deal with a person that wasn’t at the top of his game and was suffering with a mental health problem," said Deputy Captain Scott Faulks, Fire & Rescue NSW.

Information about this SANE Australia initiative can be found at: http://www.mindfulemployer.org/index.php/mindful-employer/elearning

The 2012 auDA Foundation research project on the Hello Sunday Morning blogger community and online platform helped improve it as a health promotion tool around alcohol use.  Although HSM doesn't focus on mental health, research has shown that serious mental health issues can be caused or exacerbated by excessive drinking.  HSM provides a platform for individuals to make a meaningful change in their lives by taking a short break from alcohol for 3, 6 or 12 months.

Many bloggers have reported improvements to their mental and physical wellbeing, such as Clare, a 3 month "HSMer":  "The most beneficial consequence of a 3 month HSM was definitely the mental clarity I achieved on a day to day basis. Without hangovers I feel that I had the clarity of mind to devote my time and energies to where it mattered most. My business is growing as a consequence, I have finally started my driving lessons, my health has dramatically improved and psychologically I feel more settled than I have ever been."

Read other inspiring blogs at https://www.hellosundaymorning.org/.

In our most recent funding round, St Vincent's Hospital Melbourne received a grant to develop a framework for a reputable E-mental health information portal for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Australian consumers and carers.

The St Vincent's Hospital project, which is still in progress, ran a survey with 205 responses and found 27% are accessing the internet every day to search for mental health related information, with another 45% accessing it between once a week and once a month.

"Our survey did indicate that there is still much work to be done, however.  While 45% were aware of websites that offer consumer-driven mental health information, 55% were not, which indicates an outstanding need.  Given our project is developing Internet resources in languages other than English, we were encouraged by a 92% positive response to the question of having websites available in languages other than English, especially Vietnamese," said Richard Prentice, Trust and Foundation Manager at St Vincent's Melbourne.

These are just three recent examples of the many, creative ways in which the Internet can be used to enhance the mental health and wellbeing of Australians and improve access to services.

The 2014 auDA Foundation funding round is currently open until 8 September.  Apply online at http://www.audafoundation.org.au/applying/.

Congratulations to the auDA Foundation grant recipients who were presented awards at the Australia and New Zealand Internet Awards (ANZIA) on 25 August, in Melbourne.  The Song Room won the Innovation award for ARTS:Live and Australian Prostate Cancer Research received a Highly Commended award for PROSTMATE in the same category.  Both were 2013 auDA Foundation grant recipients.  The Deaf Society of NSW (2006 grantee) received a Highly Commended award for Access & Digital Skills, and Deaf Services Queensland (2012 grantee) got a Highly Commended award for Diversity.

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