Navigating the Digital Disconnect: The implications for the youth health workforce of young peoples technology use

Presentation First Author: 
Michelle Blanchard

There is growing evidence regarding effectiveness of new technologies in improving young peoples mental health and wellbeing. Used strategically, technologies can help to overcome many of the traditional barriers to seeking help including confidentiality, stigma and physical access. While often positive results are seen from young peoples use of self directed eHealth interventions, there is some evidence that these are more effective if used as; 1) Part of a stepped care model; 2) With the support of a trained professional; or 3) As an adjunct to face to face treatment. Little is known about the attitudes and behaviours of the youth health workforce towards the role that technologies play in young peoples lives and their potential impacts (both positive and negative) on young peoples mental health and wellbeing. This study sought to understand how the Australian youth health workforce use technologies to improve or promote the mental health and wellbeing of young people aged 12 to 25. The study utilised a mixed method approach inclusive of; 1) An online questionnaire of 233 health care professionals; 2) Organisational audits of five youth mental health services; and 3) Interviews with seven expert opinion leaders. This data was used to; 1) Understand the current role of information communication technologies in improving young peoples mental health; 2) Identify what attitudes are held by the youth health workforce regarding the use of technology in improving young peoples mental health; and 3) Consider how the youth health workforce currently uses technology to improve young peoples mental health. The findings of this study demonstrated that members of the youth health workforce believe that technology plays a significant role in the lives of most young people and that they have the potential to influence mental health and wellbeing. However the workforce does not believe that these technologies are well understood or well utilised by those working to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people across mental health promotion, prevention, early intervention and treatment. They believed that technologies could be utilised more effectively if barriers to their use were overcome. These barriers include; A lack of guidelines or policies to support safe and effective use of technologies; A lack of awareness regarding which technology based strategies or approaches are most effective for young people under particular circumstances; and a paucity of good technological infrastructure in youth health services. This paper will consider the implications of the growth in the use of technologies to improve mental health and wellbeing for the youth health workforce. In doing so it will consider the need for the Young and Well CRCs recently launched Better Practice Guide, which supports the youth health workforce to use technologies in their practice. The paper will also argue for further investment in securing appropriate technology infrastructure in youth mental health services and in training staff to better understand young peoples use of technology and the range of strategies that can be applied to improve and promote young peoples wellbeing. It is absolutely critical that in thinking about how best to integrate emental health approaches into 21st Century systems of care that we ensure that the workforce is best placed to leverage these advances. This study was supported by a Melbourne Research Scholarship from the Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences at the University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.

Conference Name: 
Presentation Date: 
November, 2013
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