Mind the distance: experiences of non-face-to-face child and youth mental health services during COVID-19 social distancing restrictions in Western Australia

Matthew McQueen, Penelope Strauss, Ashleigh Lin, Jacinta Freeman, Nicole Hill, Amy Finlay-Jones, Keely Bebbington, Yael Perry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Objectives: Following the outbreak of COVID-19, social distancing restrictions limited access to face-to-face mental health services in Western Australia (WA), necessitating a rapid transition to non-face-to-face alternatives, including telehealth. The current study investigated barriers and facilitators to telehealth access and engagement, and preferences for child and youth mental health service delivery during and beyond COVID-19. Methods: Three participant groups were recruited via social media and partner organisations, and completed a tailored online survey: i) young people (14–25 years) who had ever accessed or attempted to access mental health support or services (n = 84), ii) parents of young people with a child aged 0–25 years who had ever accessed or attempted to access mental health support or services with or on behalf of their child (n = 68), and iii) professionals working in the child or youth mental health sector (n = 167). Results: Regarding barriers to engagement, young people were primarily concerned with the privacy implications of telehealth and its efficacy relative to face-to-face alternatives. Parents and clinicians were more concerned with the technological pitfalls of telehealth (e.g., internet-connectivity, picture/sound issues). Telehealth’s accessibility was highlighted as a facilitator for all groups. Although certain participant groups were considered to be more suited to telehealth than others, most participants endorsed a blended approach to the future provision of mental health services. Conclusions: To facilitate a blended approach to the delivery of child and youth mental health services, participants recommended more reliable and affordable internet access, implementing funding models that support telehealth delivery, and training for clinical staff. KEY POINTS: What is already known about this topic: At the time of writing, Western Australia has been fortunate enough to resist a large-scale outbreak of COVID-19, making the state relatively unique in its experience of the pandemic. Despite this, the state has experienced periods of social distancing requirements and associated impact on mental health service provision. Young people have been especially susceptible to mental health decline during the pandemic. Social distancing requirements have necessitated the rapid transition of mental health service provision from face-to-face to non-face-to-face alternatives. What this topic adds: Findings from this study provide localised insights into barriers and facilitators to engagement with non-face-to-face service delivery from the perspective of children and young people, carers and mental health professionals. Despite concerns about the relative efficacy of telehealth compared to traditional face-to-face services and challenges with technology, the majority of young people, parents, and mental health professionals in the study felt that moving forwards, child and youth mental health services should be provided using a flexible, blended approach where both face-to-face and non-face-to-face options are available.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)301-314
Number of pages14
JournalAustralian Psychologist
Volume57
Issue number5
Early online date9 Jun 2022
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2022

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