'Radical' change in mental health care begins on coast
TOO many young people are falling through the cracks of mental health care, an enduring problem that will see no resolve without "radical" change.
The statistics, locally, are bleak. On the Mid North Coast over the last 20 years hospitalisations for self-harm among those aged 15-24, particularly females, has been on an upward trend.
HealthStats NSW reports 86 young females and 21 young males were hospitalised for self-harm during 2016-17.
Psychological distress among secondary school students in the region has also been increasing, placing the Mid North Coast and Northern NSW local health districts in the top five with the highest rates in NSW.
But Professor Ian Hickie, Co-Director of the Brain and Mind Centre at the University of Sydney, believes to combat the issue it's crucial for health services to embrace new technologies.
"Building another hospital isn't going to solve the problem," he said.
"We need health services to pull their head out of the 20th Century."
Prof Hickie was in Coffs Harbour this week to launch InnoWell, a new digital platform that is being trialled at a handful of headspace clinics in Northern NSW.
InnoWell is expected to "transform" the way young people access mental health services.
"The point is to empower young people to put information into the system before receiving care. The technology looks at a broad range of needs and then uses headspace as an entry to services, and to co-ordinate care.
"It determines the level of need actually required, how intensive it needs to be and for how long.
"But historically we do it the other way around. Right now we have services you have to fit into. We say you've got to go to four different places, tell your story four different times, and pretty much sort it out yourself.
"Not to mention the services are funded differently and operate in isolation to each other."
"You come, you queue, then you come back in a month if you're lucky. We need to get our act together."
Mr Hickie said the new platform aims to see the end of waiting lists for those in need - before it's too late.
"It's about priorities. This technology fixes the waiting list problem by putting those in urgent need on top of the queue, not simply waiting in line which is where disaster really happens.
"The motto is right care, right time. With young people you don't get several goes, you miss the opportunity. Once we do see them turn up they're in the emergency department, suicidal."
According to Mr Hickie the region was chosen for the trial not only because there is the need, but local health services were willing to embrace the technology.
"People here want to solve the problem. They want to fix things locally, and that's great.
"We all understand the power of technology. But healthcare has been very reluctant to use those technologies."
InnoWell will be trialled for a period of 12 months in Coffs Harbour, Lismore, Port Macquarie and Tweed Heads.
It's expected to expanded to other areas of Australia and internationally once the trial is complete.