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New Zealand Deploys Digital Tools for Citizens’ Wellbeing

The Associate Minister for Social Development and Employment, Priyanca Radhakrishnan, recently launched a suite of new digital tools to support people in harmful or unstable family environments.

According to a press release, Radhakrishnan condemned harmful behaviour of any kind and said that the government is taking important steps to modernise access and better connect New Zealanders in these situations to the services that can support them. The new digital tools include a centralised 24/7 phone and online-chat support service, a dedicated website with interactive resources for those seeking help, and a new online space specifically driving behaviour change.

The 24/7 support service accessible via phone and online chat will directly support refugees, helping to ease pressure on refugee staff. Traditional support services are now complemented by online help, offering built-in flexibility. Further, a new ‘Are You OK’ website focuses completely on supporting survivors, building on the success of the It’s Not OK campaign. The website features a new ‘Check it Out’ relationship assessment tool and a ‘Service Finder’ tool, helping users identify the most relevant support and where to access it.

A separate website, In Your Hands, has also been launched to drive behaviour change by those who may use violence and their support networks, so they can access information and support. To eliminate these issues entirely, it’s important to educate and support individuals to understand harmful behaviours, and the serious damage they cause to families, Radhakrishnan added.

The pandemic highlighted a lack of alternatives to in-person support. The government has committed NZ$4 million through the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to develop support tools that are relevant to the communities they serve. This suite of digital tools will mean support is more accessible to those who need it, wherever they are, and whenever they need it.

Last year, OpenGov Asia reported that New Zealand is exploring virtual reality (VR) as a tool to improve mental health. The study revolved around intelligent customised VR for depression and anxiety treatment. It examined the ways VR exposure and interventions have been used in the treatment of mental health conditions, the technologies used, and how effective they have been as a treatment method. To increase the quality of psychological treatments and improve mental health outcomes for New Zealanders, the project draws on the expertise of an interdisciplinary team of researchers working at the intersection of mental health, virtual reality, and artificial intelligence.

Experts in the field believe the initiative could lead to the use of virtual reality in the mental health profession in New Zealand. The contribution can pave the way for large-scale efficacy testing, clinical use, and cost-effective delivery of intelligent individualised VR technology for mental health therapy across New Zealand in the future. VR in mental health is an innovative field that holds a lot of potential. This is particularly the case as standalone VR headsets are becoming more affordable, and some sets allow researchers to collect and interpret participants’ physiological data.

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