Showcasing: Development of the Rural Adversity Mental Health Program App
Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, University of Newcastle
Living Well domain
- Supporting Reform
The Rural Adversity Mental Health Program (RAMHP) is the flagship program of the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health (CRRMH) supporting rural people since 2007. The program is a $3.5 million per annum project, funded by the Mental Health Branch of the NSW Ministry of Health. RAMHP’s goal is to identify people in rural and remote New South Wales who need mental health assistance and connect them to appropriate services and resources.
A team of 19 frontline workers (RAMHP coordinators) live and work across nine NSW Local Health Districts (LHD). As outlined in Figure 1, RAMHP coordinators inform, train and connect individuals, communities and workplaces with appropriate services and programs.
RAMHP partners with various government bodies and non-government organisations, including the Department of Primary Industries, Country Women’s Association, The Land, NSW Farmers and Local Land Services, to increase the program’s impact in rural communities. RAMHP has demonstrated extensive geographic reach and works flexibly to respond to adversity, such as environmental disasters, as they arise.
RAMHP coordinators are co-managed by a RAMHP program manager in partnership with each LHD. The RAMHP program manager is based at the CRRMH in Orange, along with a RAMHP management team who support RAMHP coordinators by developing program resources and training, delivering communication services and conducting evaluation. The program is evidence-based, supported by the research conducted at the CRRMH.
In 2016, with five years of new funding, RAMHP identified the need to improve its data collection and evaluation methods.
Previously, the program collected activity data using a simple Excel spreadsheet that RAMHP coordinators completed monthly and forwarded to the program coordinator for compilation. This method of data collection provided limited information and, because measures were not clearly defined, staff used it inconsistently.
Furthermore, it did not enable timely analysis of the data, therefore informed decisions about the program’s priority areas could not occur. This is a specific issue when servicing rural communities when maintaining adaptability to adversities is key.
In July 2016, the Excel spreadsheet was replaced with a customised mobile application (App). RAMHP coordinators access the App on tablet devices and complete a short-structured survey each time they link a person to a service or resource, provide training or attend a community event or professional meeting.
The App has had many benefits for the program, including:
- Staff find it quick and easy to use
- Clear, structured questions have increased the specificity and depth of program data (which has been particularly useful as RAMHP works with diverse communities and assists people experiencing a wide range of issues affecting mental health across NSW)
- As the App is structured on a program logic model that RAMHP Coordinators helped to develop, they understand why data is collected and program objectives are reinforced as they enter it
- Innovative features e.g. if a RAMHP coordinator answers questions in the App in a certain way it automatically generates an email to the RAMHP communications team alerting them that the activity may be useful for social media.
Useful and timely data that:
- Increases RAMHP Coordinators’ awareness of the impact of their activities, raises their motivation and assists them to self-manage, review and strategically plan their work
- Benefits LHD managers by providing regular updates about the RAMHP coordinators’ activities
- Allows RAMHP to confidently articulate the program’s value and raise its profile
- Enables timely decisions on key issues facing rural communities and appropriate response strategies.
As a result of the improved data collection, the program is able to share more interesting, informative, timely and accurate information. The user friendliness of the App, combined with providing timely feedback to RAMHP coordinators about their performance, has resulted in a considerable and consistent increase in the amount of program data collected. For example, in the six months before the App, the number of people the program reported linking to mental health services was 391. In the six months after the App was introduced this increased to 927.
The data collected from the App forms a valuable part of the evaluation of RAMHP. An Outcome Evaluation Report summarising findings from this five-year funding period, including all data collected through the App, will be produced in 2020. This report will enable RAMHP to assess the impact of the program and the contribution of strategies, therefore informing program development into the next program phase.