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Innovation Challenge provides solutions to the region's mental health crisis.

The Mental Health Innovation Challenge, hosted by the Hunter New England and Central Coast Primary Health Network (HNECC PHN) has unveiled a wealth of exciting programs and services aimed at increasing mental fitness across the PHN region.

In collaboration with the Integrated Innovation Network (I2N) at the University of Newcastle and the SRI Smart Incubator at the University of New England, the PHN is thrilled to unveil the outstanding achievements of participants in the Mental Health Innovation Challenge.

First place, the Most Innovative Award was awarded to MFit Gainz who are working to foster mental fitness awareness by connecting personal actions and events, while offering a visual customer relationship manager, shareable with mental health networks. It links mental actions with feelings through gamified tools, bookings, assessments, and community engagement, providing rewards, reminders, and incentives for users. The winning team – Ian Cox, Kudzai Beta, Christina Zalud and Ishta Hall - comprised of professionals from a range of backgrounds including engineering, directorship and students, had never met before the Innovation Challenge, and were awarded the first prize of $2,000.

Sharing Voices, Sharing the Load received the Highly Commended acknowledgment for their innovative approach to bolstering proactive self-care strategies within rural populations. Through candid interviews and storytelling, it fosters community cohesion, challenging prevailing attitudes and providing resources for proactive mental health management in remote areas. The team of three were awarded $1000.

Recognised as the Rising Star, a team of four from multi-disciplinary backgrounds received third place and $500 for their mental fitness initiative, Songwriting for Wellbeing.

Richard Nankervis, CEO of the PHN said “evidence tells us that early intervention is key to achieving and maintaining mental health fitness. Through the Innovation Challenge, the PHN is exploring what we can be doing to address this need.

“The Primary Health Network extends its heartfelt congratulations to all winners and participants for their outstanding contributions to improving mental health support within communities.”

The aim of the Mental Health Innovation Challenge was to connect a variety of people and organisations to help solve the problem of declining mental fitness. Through an innovative, team-based explorative and iterative creative development process, new concepts and solutions were brought to life.

More than 500 health professionals, students, researchers, and entrepreneurs met across the region in February and March, with the aim of developing innovative solutions to declining mental health fitness. A series of education sessions and practice challenges were hosted in preparation for the main event.

Access to mental health services across the region is a critical issue as demand outstrips supply, a problem projected to worsen in the short term as the mental fitness of the community continues to decline. Additionally, the number of emergency department presentations for mental health and behavioural disorders in the Hunter New England and Central Coast regions is higher than the state average, with the highest number recorded in remote and rural areas.

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