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Can you treat depression and anxiety online? Here's how.

by KATE LEAVER

You wouldn’t think teenage girls would need much coaching in melodrama. They’re predisposed to it. They’re naturals when it comes to scandal-mongering, and they converse in bits of gossip. But teaching drama to girls in years seven and eight is truly one of the happiest challenges I’ve undertaken.

It was in that classroom, coaxing the girls to improvise, write scripts, develop characters and sort through their feelings with an audience, that I observed the delicate process of Teenage Self-Discovery close-range.

With my Mother Hen maternal instinct on high alert, I was always on the lookout for signs that one of my girls might be struggling. I adored them, and despaired at the thought that any one mightn’t know what to do if they were depressed, or considering self-harm. I remember so well, the alternating fragility and strength of adolescence.

It’s an immense relief to me to know that if approaching an adult or a friend is too much for them, these days teenagers can get support from the privacy, and even anonymity if they need it, of their internet connection.

Things have changed since I was a teenager. A decade ago, you had to speak to real-life doctors or keep your suffering to yourself. Decades before that, ‘depression’ was a dirty, shameful word rarely uttered. Whiling away my homework time on MSN Messenger was the most constructive thing I did online. But now! To think! There’s the option to seek help and find information online.

It’s a beautiful thing, to see government money go where it’s needed most.

With the National Disability Insurance Scheme stalling, as state and federal politicians scrounge around for funding and play with priorities, it’s nice to know that the mental health sector is getting some attention. It gives me such hope, to see the abundance of online support for young people with mental illness themselves, or advice on how to help someone who does.

It’s brilliant, actually.

The evidence is there: We know that 1 in 4 Australians will grapple with mental illness this year. We know that 75% of these people won’t be treated properly, or even seek help. We know that mental illness is grossly under-reported by young people, and we know how utterly isolating it can be to deal with depression. Addressing the mental health and wellbeing of young people is one of the most important things we can possibly do. It’s urgent.

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This study and that have denounced social media for enabling loneliness, and parents hate that their kids spend so much time on the interwebs. There’s even such a thing as “internet dependency.”

But the advent of online mental healthcare is something we should celebrate, and explore. The wonderful thing is that teenagers can side-step the fear of asking for help, and find information themselves. It’s empowering, to educate yourself about mood disorders, eating disorders and symptoms of depression at your own pace.

Two new e-mental health initiatives to get excited about:

1. Headspace.

We’ve had news this week that 15 new headspace centres will open this year! Mark Butler, the Minister for Mental Health and Ageing, has rather excitedly announced that the new centres will be located where they’re needed most (visit here to find a location near you).

While headspace offers terrific virtual counseling and a catalogue of studies and helpful information, their physical centres are integral to the success of their organisation. A headspace centre is a rare space where young people can seek help for depression, anxiety, mood disorders, eating disorders, alcohol, and substance abuse all under the one roof.

2. ReachOut

This week, ReachOut have launched smartphone and tablet versions of their online services, and spruced up their website. This means young people can access information and get support whenever they want, wherever they want.

This is the future, right here – you can sign up for free daily SMS ‘stress tips’ and ‘random acts of kindness.’ You can download the ChangeMaker App here, which puts all of ReachOut’s best services in your pocket. The WorkOut campaign gives you clear exercises to improve your mental health and calm, in a familiar quiz format.

 Kate is a radio producer, writer and Goon Show enthusiast. You can find her website here, and follow her on Twitter at @Kateileaver.

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