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Dr Andrew Rochford talks Mental Health with the Australian Digital Health Agency

Dr Andrew Rochford is a leading commentator on digital health innovation and how digital health can support the healthcare system and Australians facing the challenges of COVID-19. Andrew yarns with Gman on 3KND about Mental Health. Since winning The Block many years ago as a Final year medical student Andrew has worked for all 3 Major Television networks. After working as the 7 Network’s Health Editor he is now back at Network TEN as the co-host of Pointless, a nightly prime time game show. He has also hosted What's Good For You, Amazing Medical Stories, You Saved My Life and The Project. He has reported in Africa, US, and Nepal post-earthquake for Sunday Night. He has also worked for 2GB and ARN co-hosting Breakfast radio in Sydney with Claire Hooper.

Medically, he is trained in Emergency Medicine, holding registrar positions at major teaching hospitals around Australia, including Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, and Princess Alexandra Hospital Brisbane. The 2019/20 natural disasters and COVID-19 have increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression and are suspected of increasing levels of suicide. The events of the past 18 months have worsened Australia’s mental health figures.

Australian mental health statistics before COVID-19 (source ABS): • In 2017-18, one in five (20.1%) or 4.8 million Australians had a mental or behavioural condition." [1] • "In 2017-18, around one in eight (13.0% or 2.4 million) Australians aged 18 years and over experienced high or very high levels of psychological distress." [2] • "In 2017-18, three in five adults (60.8%) in Australia experienced a low level of psychological distress." [2]

One in five Australians aged 16-85 experience a mental illness in any given year (ABS, 2007). 54% of people with mental illness do not access any treatment (AIHW, 2014).

A digital health response • Digital support services are especially vital now that enforced distancing and lockdown measures, due to COVID-19, have created a barrier for Australians who previously used social and personal support networks of friends and family to adapt in challenging situations or in a crisis. • Digital health can provide more accessible digital services to help support and improve our nation’s psychological health.

My Health Record Mental Health Toolkit • The Agency has a My Health Record Mental Health toolkit, to ensure healthcare providers are equipped to assist their patients with clear and specific information to make an informed decision about the benefits of using My Health Record. • The toolkit addresses how to manage patient information securely, sensitively and privately. • The toolkit and associated resources are informed by feedback from clinicians.

• The toolkit includes:  A provider’s obligations regarding privacy, security and consent when using the My Health Record system;  How clinicians can register to the My Health Record system, including the registration process for providers, clinicians and responsible officers;  Talking to patients about the benefits of the system and risks associated with not uploading information; and  How individuals can view, amend and upload information to their My Health Record and add privacy settings to further secure their information. • My Health Record can help patients make informed choices about their care and improve the continuity of care they receive from different healthcare providers. More and more psychiatrists are being asked questions from their patients about My Health Record and how it can support their care, and the toolkit provides support to the mental healthcare profession to meet patient needs.

What if you are one of the 2.5 million Australians who are not online? • Only a third of adults in a recent survey said they felt very confident they have the skills and access to information they need to feel safe online. If you’re part of this demographic, how do you confidently access that telehealth appointment, attend a virtual fitness class, maintain social connections or find reliable health information online? • The Australian Digital Health Agency is working with Good Things Foundation, and the Australian Library and Information Association to support people to learn essential digital health literacy skills. This is critical to ensuring every Australian can make informed, confident choices when it comes to supporting their health and wellbeing. • Good Things Foundation works in partnership with libraries, community centres, men’s sheds, multicultural communities and seniors’ groups to provide digital literacy support programs in more than 3,000 communities across Australia for people who may otherwise be left behind to build digital literacy skills and capabilities. • They have seen that despite the challenges of the pandemic, when you provide local, tailored support in a trusted community setting, people at risk of digital exclusion can better participate in the world of digital health and support their overall wellbeing. • After participating in a pilot Health My Way program at community organisations, 80 per cent of people reported having increased their digital health literacy skills and confidence. As a result of gaining basic digital skills through the Be Connected program, 77 per cent felt they had increased their social connections. • Indochinese Elderly Refugees Association (IERA) in Melbourne was delivering the Health My Way program to improve their community’s digital health skills, before recently returning to lockdown. As a result of this support, learners went from never hearing about My Health Record and feeling it was too complicated to getting started with MyGov, to being strong advocates of online health tools and having the confidence to view their medical records online.

Background information about mental health What we know from a recent Monash University report [3]: • In the first month of restrictions “clinically-significant depressive and generalised anxiety symptoms, thoughts of being better off dead or of self-harm, and irritability were at least double those in non-COVID affected populations” • Around one quarter of participants were experiencing clinically significant depression symptoms (which was an increase from around 3.7 per cent) • The most vulnerable people had lost jobs, lived alone or in poorly-resourced areas, were providing care to dependent family members, were members of marginalised minorities, women or young.

What we know from Beyond Blue: • In the last week of March 2020, there was a 30 per cent increase in calls and emails to Beyond Blue’s existing 24/7 Support Service and one in three contacts were from people directly impacted by the coronavirus. [4] • Through July, as Victoria reintroduced Stage 3 restrictions in some locations, contacts about anxiety spiked 50 per cent and contacts about depression doubled. [5] • In the week leading up to 6th August 2020, there was a 21 per cent increase in visits to the Beyond Blue Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service digital site. [5]

What we know from recent study, ‘Acute mental health responses during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia’ [6]: • 78% of respondents reported that their mental health had worsened since the outbreak • Uncertainty, loneliness and financial worries (50%) were common • Rates of elevated psychological distress were higher than expected, with 62%, 50%, and 64% of respondents reporting elevated depression, anxiety and stress levels respectively

People should seek help and reach out to loved ones and let them know what you are going through.

It’s ok to say you’re not ok. There are a range of online resources to assist.

The Black Dog Institute has a range of helpful online resources including a Free online mental health assessment tool for people over the age of 18 providing a check-in on a range of conditions.

Media contact Media Team Mobile: 0428 772 421 Email:

About the Australian Digital Health Agency The Agency is tasked with improving health outcomes for all Australians through the delivery of digital healthcare systems, and implementing Australia’s National Digital Health Strategy – Safe, Seamless, and Secure: evolving health and care to meet the needs of modern Australia in collaboration with partners across the community. The Agency is the System Operator of My Health Record, and provides leadership, coordination, and delivery of a collaborative and innovative approach to utilising technology to support and enhance a clinically safe and connected national health system. These improvements will give individuals more control of their health and their health information, and support healthcare providers to deliver informed healthcare through access to current clinical and treatment information. Further information:


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