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How searching for help online can be healthy

With mental health services facing unprecedented demand, technology and social media can help support vulnerable people caught on a waitlist, or financially unable to access help. But it is important to seek out content from trusted sources, and not end up simply self-diagnosing.

The last twelve months have been difficult for us all. Even if you were spared any direct economic or health issues from the pandemic, you may still be finding it hard to reconnect with coworkers and your community, and it’s understandable to be suffering low level anxiety while we wait for vaccines to roll out.

It can help to explore mental health issues from the privacy of your screen or headphones, as long as you stick to trusted sources.

It can help to explore mental health issues from the privacy of your screen or headphones, as long as you stick to trusted sources.

It’s important to understand you’re not alone. Three out of every four Australians said their mental health had worsened as a result of COVID-19, and according to Google the search query “What is depression?” reached a decade-high peak in March 2020.

Last week the search giant announced it was partnering with Lifeline Australia and The Black Dog Institute to ensure its response to this query was relevant and proactive. Australians searching for help will now be offered a 9-question clinically-validated questionnaire — the same as that used by healthcare providers to evaluate someone’s level of depression — and pointed to resources that would be most suitable for their needs.

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“Using a validated, trusted self-assessment tool is a great additional resource for those seeking help,” said Rachel Bowes, head of crisis services at Lifeline Australia, adding that Google’s screening tool was, importantly, confidential and anonymous.

“We know that 60 percent of people who experience mental health issues do not seek support. So it’s important to find new alternatives to existing support services,” said Jill Newby, associate professor at the Black Dog Institute.

“Whether people have not sought help because of where they live, the high costs, or their own comfort levels, we commend the broadening of avenues available to people to understand what is happening to them, and to reach out when in need.”

Elsewhere online, social media support groups can help reduce the feeling of isolation, but shouldn’t be relied upon for medical advice.

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