The federal government’s proposed digital mental health service for people with low-intensity psychological conditions is a step in the right direction, according to experts.

The endorsement comes after the federal government announced it would commit $588 million to establishing a low-intensity mental health digital service to “ensure people can access mental health support before their distress escalates”.

University of Wollongong professor and nurse at the Shoalhaven and Illawarra Health District Timothy Wand said the federal government’s approach to mental health has not changed over the last decade. 

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“There’s been an over-reliance on medication or drugs to respond to people’s mental distress,” Professor Wand said.

“But what we’ve realised is it hasn’t provided the fix that we’ve held up to.

“But still, that seems [to be] the focus from a government perspective, is on the pharmaceutical side of things and the medical side of things.”

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported 45.6 million mental-health-related medications were dispensed, and 4.8 million Australians filled a mental health prescription between 2022 and 2023. 

Professor Wand was cautiously optimistic the service would be a step in the right direction, and would provide a social service rather than a pharmaceutical one. 

The best way to address mental health problems is to circumvent them happening in the first place,” Professor Wand said. 

“So, it’s all about social programs that enhance people’s mental health literacy, mental health skills, self-care, but also avoids or reduces the amount of adversity, trauma and socioeconomic disadvantage that people are exposed to.” 

Black Dog Institute Executive Director Samuel Harvey said while the direction of the reforms is correct, it is missing a key component – more mental health professionals. 

“There is no point modernising our mental health care system if we don’t have the staff to work in it,” Professor Harvey said. 

“Anyone who has tried to get mental health support in recent years knows about the shortage of clinicians and long wait times.” 

The specific details of the digital service are yet to be announced, and the government will spend up to 18 months consulting and creating the platform. 

Professor Wand hopes the government will consult people who have experienced the mental health system before.  

“I think it’s an expectation that designing mental health services or interventions involves people who have received mental health care,” Professor Wand said 

“And they will often know what’s best for their needs.”

The NSW Government announced today their plan to help employers manage their employees’ psychosocial risks and protect them from psychological harm.