21st century mental health care: the role of online communities

Presentation First Author: 
Atari Metcalf (presented by Deepika Ratnaike)

To address the increasing demand for services, a 21st century model of mental health care should include a strong focus on scalable support options – services that can achieve a wide reach while maintaining high impact. Online communities that focus on peer support, health promotion and prevention can do just that - providing a valuable space where young people can connect with others who have had similar experiences, to form social connections, and to learn from the mental health experiences of others.

However, it’s hard to avoid the fact that when you head online, many of the sites that you’ll visit are either underutilised, or not adequately moderated. Naturally for many health care professionals working with vulnerable young people it can seem risky to facilitate participation in online communities.

When done right, online communities are a valuable space for social-connectedness, belonging, efficacy, participation and more - particularly for young people who are traditionally isolated by mental health difficulties. Community management is a discipline too often ignored online and when implemented well creates the foundations for innovative, safe, supportive and engaging communities.

Health professionals can incorporate use of online communities into their work with young people experiencing a mental health difficulty. A referral to a safe and supportive peer support community could help young people to develop mental health literacy and increase their social connectedness. Most importantly, a young person’s involvement in an online community can reinforce recovery and contribute to the ongoing development of their wellbeing.

ReachOut.com was the world’s first online youth mental health service and remains Australia’s leading online mental health service for young people. Working alongside young people, ReachOut delivers online tools and practical support - self-help and peer support that focuses on health promotion, illness prevention and early intervention. ReachOut's peer support forums have been part of the service since 2006 and use best practice in community management – drawing from risk management and engagement strategies in both offline and online environments . This presentation will share our approach to online peer support for young people in order for you to consider how you can safely incorporate support through online communities into your practice.

Key learning outcomes:

• How online communities help the mental health system meet increasing demand for services

• Creating healthy, safe and supportive environments online

• Trust your referrals – what to look for in an online community and facilitate participation

Conference Name: 
Date of Presentation: 
10th Oct 2015
Type of presentation: 
See other presentations in this Session: