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Can we solve Australia's mental health crisis?

  • 06 August 2013
  • Written by 
  • Published in Health

Our growing mental health epidemic could be avoided with cutting-edge mapping technology, according to one leading health expert.

New figures show that 45% of Australians aged 16-85 years will experience a common mental health-related condition, but innovative health technology has emerged to help determine what services need to be implemented, and where.

The development is known as GIS, or Geographic Information System, and according to health experts the technology can analyse specific characteristics of a mental health ‘hot-spot’, such as socio-economic and environmental factors – to determine what services and programs need to be implemented to support vulnerable demographics.

Esri Australia GIS in Health specialist Damien Cassin said yesterday at a Gold Coast mental health conference that GIS technology can help high-risk mental health demographics by prioritising Australia’s $20 billion annual spend.

“By using GIS technology to identify where people are suffering with mental health problems – we can then start to investigate why this is occurring and determine the actions required to address the situation,” Cassin said.

“GIS can analyse data to ensure the right preventative measures are in place by identifying a particular area that doesn’t have enough medical professionals to properly diagnose mental health patients.

“A location might also have experienced hardship, such as a flood, and as a result may see a high rate of mental health cases – again, GIS works to identify these regions so the right medical services can be implemented.”

Cassin said in addition to finding service gaps, GIS technology can help support the 4.5 million Australians affected each year by detecting locations which require more mental health education and health literature.

“Quite often, remote or rural areas for example may require more mental health education – such as community awareness campaigns, school-based interventions, individual training programs and workshops – to help them identify problems earlier and understand what assistance is available,” he said.

GIS has also been identified as a tool which can provide greater transparency on government decisions in relation to mental health funding, and Cassin said the technology could help members of the community better understand service surplus and deficits across the country.

“For example by visually representing current levels of supply and demand, GIS technology could shed light on why the Federal Government recently injected $7 million into Central Queensland, while New South Wales’ mental health funding was cut by $16.4 million,” Cassin said.

The 14th International Mental Health Conference is being held over yesterday and today at the Outrigger hotel in Surfers Paradise.

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