When Aino Korhonen*, 69, saw an advert for online mental health therapy in a newspaper, she went to her GP and asked if she could be referred to try it.
The lifelong Helsinki resident had been diagnosed with depression and had attended a few sessions with a psychologist but the two didn’t get along. She remembers: “We didn’t [seem to] talk the same language. I went a couple of times and it didn’t help me at all.”
Korhonen knew it was time to try something different when she turned up for an appointment only to sit and wait until she was informed that the psychologist was ill. “I was shocked. Somehow they hadn’t managed to contact me. I decided this wasn’t working. I couldn’t come here and not see anybody. I needed something else.” she says. Her GP agreed.
While online therapy is viewed with some scepticism in the UK, in Finland the service, Mental Health Hub, is used by every hospital district in the country. It was first set up 10 years ago by Prof Grigori Joffe and Dr Matti Holi at Helsinki University Central hospital in response to fragmented mental health services and because it is hard for patients in rural areas of the sparsely-populated country to get help.
The online portal includes a questionnaire to determine whether users have mental health problems, along with a signposting service to show people where to go for help. The hub also provides self-help tools for those who don’t need professional help. Three years ago, it started offering therapy courses with qualified mental health professionals for people with mild to moderate mood disorders. Anyone can access it but a referral is needed for therapy. The hub also offers education, training, advice and consultation opportunities for mental healthcare professionals, as well as various tools for measuring mental health.
Patients can access computer-assisted cognitive behavioural online therapies for depression, alcohol misuse and a wide rage of anxiety disorders. They log on to watch videos and complete written exercises designed to highlight destructive behaviour and how to avoid it. If they have questions or worries, they can message a mental health professional who will reply to them with advice or encouragement.