Reach Out! Innovation in service delivery

Jane Burns, Carolyn Morey, Alexandra Lagelée, Anna Mackenzie and Jonathan Nicholas
Med J Aust 2007; 187 (7): S31. || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2007.tb01333.x
Published online: 1 October 2007

Seventy-five per cent of mental illness begins before 25 years of age, with one in five young people (children and adolescents) diagnosed with a mental health problem.1 Yet, Australian data indicate that only 29% of those affected contact a professional service of any type.2 Given the poor prognosis for adolescents and adults with untreated psychiatric symptoms, these low rates of access and treatment are particularly disturbing.3,4

The Internet is increasingly becoming a support of choice for young people, with research demonstrating that young people actively seek health information and referrals through the Internet and online discussion groups,5 including accessing sensitive information on AIDS, birth control and mental health issues.6

Reach Out! — bridging the gap for young people

Reach Out! ( is a web-based service for young people aged 16–25 years. Its aim is to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young Australians by enhancing mental health literacy, increasing resilience, and facilitating help-seeking. Young people have been directly involved in the development and delivery of the service.11 It consists of five components (Box).

3. Interactive technologies

Among teens, 72% of males, and 48% of females play video games either online or on consoles.13 Reach Out! Central (ROC), based on the principles of cognitive behaviour therapy, uses gaming technology to engage young people. It appeals through its interactivity, colourful aesthetic, use of popular music, ease of use, and overall gaming fun. Young people who have used the ROC prototype rate it as helpful (92% males and 97% females; n = 224). A planned randomised controlled trial, funded by beyondblue: the National Depression Initiative, will determine the effectiveness and impact of games on mental health.

4. Self-expression

Young people look to the Internet to express themselves creatively and to document and share personal experiences.14 Twenty per cent keep a blog and nearly 40% read a blog,15 while 61% of young people aged 13–17 years have a profile on a social networking site.16 Reach Out! builds on these trends through social networking and digital storytelling.

5. Portable digital media

Young people are increasingly looking for ways to access and transport digital content. Two popular trends, podcasting and short message service (SMS),17,18 have been included on Reach Out!.

In unsolicited online feedback, young people say that Reach Out! helps them understand their difficulties. This includes accepting that they might need professional help, understanding how mental health services work, and finding the courage to seek help face-to-face or over the telephone.


The Internet is a medium that forms part of young people’s everyday lives, and mental health professionals should recognise the explosive growth of social networking websites, such as MySpace and Facebook, and the role they play in young people’s lives. It can service unlimited numbers simultaneously and offers the added benefits of anonymity and continuous availability. Reach Out! costs less than $1 per visit. This compares with about $150 per hour for face-to-face counselling sessions, and between $19.87 and $58.89 to deliver telecounselling to one person.19

Reach Out! has gained credibility with young people as a result of its meaningful youth participation program.11 It embraces youth culture, having a presence in environments that young people associate with fun and aspirations. Youth brand and media partners, such as Triple J, MySpace, Jay Jays, General Pants, Coca-Cola and Schoolies, and inspirational website content make Reach Out! a space where young people feel comfortable, increasing their likelihood of turning to it when they need help. It is closely aligned with the needs, interests and language of today’s young people and delivers evidence-based content in a non-threatening and non-patronising way.

Reach Out! is in a unique position to reduce the stigma associated with mental health problems, to increase help-seeking behaviour, and to raise awareness of available support. Leveraging its marketing campaigns and partnerships with youth brands, Reach Out! aims to connect more young people with local service providers. It offers an opportunity, firstly, for young people to take their first steps towards accessing professional mental health support and, secondly, for community services, such as general practitioners, health centres and clinicians, to more effectively engage with young people.

Reach Out! Pro ( is a new website which provides GPs, psychologists, psychiatrists, allied health professionals and educators with information and tools. Community consultation is currently underway, but it is expected that this information will include how young people use Reach Out!, and will also provide suggestions for how professionals can incorporate Reach Out! into their work with young people to achieve better and more sustained mental health outcomes.

The major challenge for successful mental health reform will be for key organisations, service providers and professionals to collaborate to create a culture that reduces stigma and facilitates early help-seeking by young people. Services will not only need to attract young people, but also engage them over a period of time to ensure continuity of treatment. To do so, they will need to be relevant and responsive to young people’s needs and preferences.

  • Jane Burns1
  • Carolyn Morey2
  • Alexandra Lagelée3
  • Anna Mackenzie4
  • Jonathan Nicholas5

  • The Inspire Foundation, Sydney, NSW.



We acknowledge the young people and mental health professionals who have worked with the Inspire team and given freely of their time to help create the Reach Out! website. Reach Out! is a program of the Inspire Foundation (, a national charity that uses the Internet and related technologies to improve the mental health of young people.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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