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August 5th, 2013
New Technology Could Save Australia from Mental Health Crisis

In light of new figures that 45 per cent of Australians aged 16-85 years will experience a common mental health-related condition, Geographic Information System (GIS) technology has emerged as a tool to determine exactly where medical services are required to address and treat the issue.

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.

Speaking today at the International Mental Health Conference on the Gold Coast, Esri Australia GIS in Health specialist Damien Cassin said 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,” Mr 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.”

Mr 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.

Mr Cassin said in terms of government funding, 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,” Mr Cassin said.

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