In recent years, the mental health of young people in Belgium has been deteriorating, a situation which was further worsened during the pandemic. Flanders is looking to improve the support offering for this group by investing in accessible online care.
Research shows that online help can reach a wider target audience that does not find its way to traditional help, or finds it difficult to do so. While there is an extensive range of online information on self-tests for people struggling with drug and alcohol abuse and mental health problems, more long-term offerings are needed.
"Online help is accessible and easy to use and enables monitoring, follow-up and adjustment of online tools and self-tests. This form of assistance deserves a fully-fledged place in the provision of psychological help and support," Flemish Minister of Welfare, Public Health and Family Hilde Crevits said in a statement.
She wants more young people aged 16 to 23 with psychological problems to be able to count on help online as well. This could result in young people no longer having to physically see a therapist or psychologist if this is difficult for them.
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Aside from being more accessible, the waiting times for online help are also much shorter, which is pivotal in the region where young people oftentimes go months without receiving help for anxiety disorders, eating disorders, depressive feelings, suicidal thoughts and other conditions.
"Those seeking online counselling can get a first digital appointment after two weeks on average. Clients are then followed up for three months by a team of professional online counsellors and, if appropriate, referred to outpatient or residential services," a statement from Crevits read.
Two-way entry system
For young people, it is likely that in the next two years, they will be able to access care online in two ways. Firstly, an online self-help guide will be created to help young people gain a better understanding of their symptoms and to see which counselling pathways are possible for them. This offer is aimed at the age group of 16 to 23 years.
Online help will be offered to those with specific problems, such as depression, anxiety or self-harm.
Last year, there was already an investment in online assistance of approximately €600,000 for online help and to assist these types of websites. Crevits is now providing an additional investment of €865,541 in 2022 and €933,340 in 2023 for these means.