Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mental illness - new hope?

Not often enough do we see an idea or invention that has the potential to solve contemporary problems. This might be one however given that most of the growth in invalid's and sickness benefits is from psychological and psychiatric conditions which the health system does not seem to have the capacity to treat.

Mentally ill Australians are increasingly being diagnosed and treated online in virtual psychiatric clinics, without ever seeing a doctor.

Patients suffering from depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder are being assessed by computer and given ''e-prescriptions'' for online counselling courses instead of medication or treatment sessions with a psychologist or psychiatrist. Doctors who provide e-therapy say it produces better results than face-to-face treatment but at a fraction of the cost...

I began reading with skepticism but finished with optimisim;

More than 360 doctors across Australia are also using a program developed by the University of New South Wales and St Vincent's Hospital's Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety and Depression in Sydney, which allows GPs and psychologists to refer patients with mental health issues for online treatment by buying a $100 pad of 20 e-prescriptions for 20 patients, each providing a six-week counselling course.

The federal government has trialled the program in New South Wales and, with funding extended until June next year, it is expected to be introduced in rural communities nationally.

The program allows people to record their emotions with electronic mood monitors that are tracked by their doctor, who can intervene if they feel extra support is needed.

It has become the hospital's treatment of choice for people with anxiety disorders, and those behind the program are now in discussion with the United States and New Zealand governments which want to replicate it. Gavin Andrews, who heads the online research unit clinic, said more than 2000 patients had been treated and the program had been found to be 13 times more cost effective than face-to-face treatment.

''For every two people you treat, you get one fully better and they stay better for six months. When you're treating depression with antidepressants you get one better for every five patients you treat and for cognitive behavioural therapy you treat four and you get one fully better … The results are quite staggering.''

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