Australians are turning increasingly to mobile technology to access the support and mental health care they need, overcoming isolation and the stigma surrounding mental illness.
SANE Australia has partnered with 14 leading mental health organisations around Australia to provide peer support for people affected by mental illness through the online SANE Forums.
Over 29,000 people have viewed the Forums since the launch last year.
People have contributed to over 835 discussions on topics ranging from recovering from Schizophrenia to the latest mental health research.
A third of those who access the Forums do so with a mobile device.
'In this day and age of mobile technology, having the Forums user-friendly for mobiles definitely broadens the accessibility, as just about everyone nowadays has a mobile phone,' one Forum member says.
One in five Australians experience a mental health problem every year, yet half of these people do not receive the treatment and support they need.
This is particularly true for people living in regional and rural Australia, says SANE CEO Jack Heath.
'It's important for people in rural and regional areas to get the help and support they need as early as possible to sustain their mental health and prevent problems in the future. However this isn't always possible because of social isolation and a lack of understanding.'
In a recent evaluation of the forums members reported feeling safe and having a sense of connection in a stigma free environment.
For Forum member Kristin, who lives in regional Victoria, her experience of mental illness has been a journey of more than three decades.
She says finding and accessing health professionals in rural areas can be very difficult.
'It can take years to find good help - even when you know what you're looking for! When you find it then much travelling is needed for access.
'Not everyone in rural areas has access to the internet at home, or has a computer. People with a long-term illness are less likely to be able to afford these things. So smartphone access is a great idea.'
The SANE Forums are funded under the Australian Government's Teleweb initiative that supports a range of web and telephone-based services providing self-help and support for people affected by mental health problems.
SANE Australia's partners embed the Forums in their own websites so that the online peer support community, which spans Australia, is accessible via a trusted local organisation.
Partner organizations include a diverse range of groups, from Eating Disorders Victoria to Arafmi, an organization supporting carers.
'The Australian mental health sector is showing leadership in collaborating their efforts to best serve those in need. The Forums are one example of how it is possible to build the world's best mental health care system here in Australia,' SANE CEO Jack Heath says.
The findings of the evaluation of the Forums will be presented at the Primary Mental Healthcare in the Digital Age conference in Canberra on Friday the 13th of March.