Bushfire victims can now access mental health assistance online.
Bushfire victims can now access mental health assistance online.

Getting mental health assistance as simple as one click away

BUSHFIRE impacted communities are being encouraged to seek help, especially now as COVID-19 pressures could lead to mental health issues, an expert has warned.

Clinical and forensic psychologist and mental health ambassador Dr Qusai Hussain said it was important that bushfire communities were not forgotten amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr Hussain is urging those rebuilding their lives after the fires to prioritise their mental wellbeing.

It's as easy as accessing a free Cyber Clinic app, created by Dr Hussain, which will fast-track assistance for people in regional communities by connecting them with a psychologist within 24 hours, without need for a GP referral.

"Understandably, coronavirus is currently dominating discussion, but that shouldn't distract from the fact people affected by the bushfires still require support, particularly as we know the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder typically present months or years later," Dr Hussain said.

"Studies after natural disasters show up to 60 per cent of people can be affected by PTSD. "Half of the firefighters battling the 1983 fires in south east Australia were found to have PTSD two years after the event, so this is a very real issue and one best treated early."

The Cyber Clinic app uses a unique algorithm to match users with the "best fit" psychologist for their needs within 10 minutes of downloading, with videoconferencing appointments available within 24 hours.

Bushfire and pandemic Medicare item numbers can be applied to minimise out of pocket costs, from as little as $25 depending on the psychologist and rebate.

Dr Hussain said a lack of specialised mental health services in regional areas could mean people were left struggling without easy access to the professional help they needed.

"The Cyber Clinic app overcomes this by removing any logistic and geographical stresses and barriers so people can quickly and easily access the expertise they need," he said.

"And as we have seen, it is also an obvious way forward during outbreaks of highly communicable illnesses that require strict social distancing and isolation."

Dr Hussain said research showed videoconferencing was as effective as face-to-face therapy, and overcame "embarrassment or privacy concerns" for people living in rural communities who might be reluctant to seek help locally.

Appointments are available by downloading the free Cyber Clinic app.

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