Online social therapy to support carers of young people with mental illness.

Many mental health problems begin in late adolescence when the majority of young people live with their families. As a result, families are often heavily involved in identifying the initial need for professional mental health care, managing the complex referral process for local services, and supporting the young person through treatment. Yet family members often have little knowledge of the nature of the mental health problems they are grappling with, or how to most effectively respond to their loved one’s changed behaviour. This causes a wide range of unmet family needs and burdens, and associated increased rates of depression, stress, and financial pressures for carers of young people with mental illness.

We developed Meridian in 2013 to provide an initial test of the safety and acceptability of a novel model of care for carers of young people with mental illness, called online social therapy. Powered by our earliest MOSTware system, Meridian integrated carer-to-carer social networking with evidence-based therapy modules for carer self-care, stress management, psychoeducation, and effective communication with a young person. Carer engagement and safety within Meridian was supported by specialist online clinicians, as well as trained online peer workers with lived experience of caring for a young person for mental illness.

Meridian was tested via a 3-month pilot study with 30 carers of a young person receiving treatment for depression at headspace Glenroy (Gleeson et al., 2017). Results indicated strong carer interest in online social support. Over the course of the pilot there was an average of 30 posts per participant and 6 therapy modules undertaken. A total of 22 online problem solving groups were created and actively participated in by carers, and there was a statistically significant reduction in carer stress over the course of the pilot.

Meridian was funded by a Service Improvement Project Grant administered by headspace National Office.