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A StepCare trial identifying depression & anxiety in the Western NSW PHN region

Western NSW Primary Health Network (WNSW PHN) has partnered with Black Dog Institute to rollout a mental health “checkup” service aimed at screening patients for anxiety and depression.

The Black Dog StepCare in General Practice program is the first of its type in Australia, and involves 14 general practice sites across Western NSW from Broken Hill to Molong, to help people get the right care in the right place and at the right time.

The Black Dog Institute promotes a stepped care approach to delivering accessible, effective and efficient services, with general practitioners ideally placed to facilitate better mental health outcomes for patients in Western NSW.

Patients are given an iPad when they arrive at the practice as part of the regular welcome procedure, and are invited to complete a questionnaire on anxiety and depressive symptoms.

These results are sent to the GP, who can then raise them in the consultation and offer patients appropriate management options based on the severity of their symptoms.

The project has been well received by practices, with the Practice Manager at Cobar Primary Health Care Centre, Bernie Martin stating “The GP’s find it to be a helpful tool that can give them an opening into a discussion about how patients are travelling and offer appropriate care or treatment as needed.”

Ms Martin continued, “The support and resources with Black Dog Institute are great for the mild cases of anxiety and depression to be managed and supported in the comfort of their own home at their own pace.”

One in six Australians will experience depression and one in four will experience anxiety in their lifetime, lowering quality of life, increasing risk of suicide and worsening outcomes of other physical and mental health problems.

The Member for Parkes, Mark Coulton, said “the Federal Government’s support in this undertaking was vital.”

“Rural people are stoic. They often do the hard yards in face of the vagaries of the weather, remoteness and the rural economy. When the going is tough it's good to know they can access the same care as city folk,” Mr Coulton said.

The WNSW PHN is among a number of Primary Health Networks trialing the ‘StepCare’ service, which has been developed by the Black Dog Institute.

Patients that screen in the mild, moderate or severe range for symptoms of anxiety or depression are provided with the appropriate treatment recommendation along with repeat surveys and fortnightly monitoring by Black Dog Institute.

“The aim is to intervene early, prevent deterioration, improve mental health outcomes and develop a system of individualised stepped mental health care that can be ultimately implemented across the whole WNSW PHN region. The Black Dog Institute’s StepCare program is a great start to making that happen,” said WNSW PHN Chief Executive Officer, Andrew Harvey.

Professor Helen Christensen, Director and Chief Scientist of the Black Dog Institute, said “Illnesses such as depression and anxiety could lower quality of life, increase the risk of suicide, and worsen outcomes of other physical and mental health problems”.

“This Black Dog StepCare in General Practice program is the first of its type in Australia, and we know of no others in mental health worldwide,” Professor Christensen said.

“We also know nearly half (45%) of Australians will experience a mental illness at some stage of their life and that rates are higher among rural areas”.

“Not only is the assessment quick to do, it helps patients who have been uncomfortable to speak up, or who were unaware they had mental health symptoms, to access the treatment and support to help them lead more fulfilling lives,” continued Professor Christensen.

The Practice Manager at Cobar Primary Health Care Centre, Bernie Martin, felt that one of the main successes of the program is that it is directed by the needs of the patient, which gives them ownership but in a supported way. Generally, they felt that most people were happy to complete the surveys and have largely embraced the technology.

Early trial results of the StepCare program in other parts of Australia have found that 93 percent of GP’s and 90 percent of patients rated the service as acceptable to undertake.

For information about the Western NSW Primary Health Network Stepped Care Model head to our website https://www.wnswphn.org.au/services/mental-health.
For further information about the Black Dog Institute’s StepCare Program visit the Black Dog Institute website or contact stepcare@blackdog.org.au or 02 9382 4524.


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