Confirmed presentations and speakers

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Opening address and panel discussion

John Feneley bio photoThe NSW Commissioner for Mental Health, John Feneley will open the mental health stream of the DiG Festival, drawing on the work of the NSW Commission and lead into a multi-sector panel discussion addressing the opening topic “how have advances in technology changed the way we think about mental health?”.

The Mental Health Commission of NSW is an independent statutory agency which drives improvements in the mental health and wellbeing of the people of NSW. It works to influence policy across a full range of Government social and health services, and through partnerships and advocacy that promote good practice in mental health support. In all its activities it seeks to reflect the needs and wishes of people who live with mental illness, and their families and carers.

Panel Members:

  • Commissioner John Feneley, NSW Mental Health Commission 
  • Chris Pycroft, Media Access Australia
  • Janet Hopkins, SANE Australia 
  • Daniel Donahoo, Project Synthesis

For panelist biographies, please see our speakers webpage.



Embracing a digital paradigm when communicating about mental health

Both media and the mental health sectors in Australia have embraced the digital age to reach wider and targeted audiences. Many media organisations, individual journalists and mental health agencies, now have a major presence on social media in a relatively short period and, in some cases, leading the way internationally.

This panel session will explore the sophisticated use of digital technology in communicating and engaging about mental health issues, and the opportunities and challenges online environments bring for organisations and communities. The panel brings together a vast wealth of communication experience from leading national mental health agencies and the Australian media.

Panel host: Jaelea Skehan, Hunter Institute of Mental Health 


  • Marc Bryant, Hunter Institute of Mental Health
  • Sean Parnell, The Australian
  • Chris Wagner, Mental Health Australia
  • Jennifer Muir, Primary Communication
  • Neal Mann, News Corp Australia

For panelist biographies, please see our speakers webpage.


Feature Session

Young People, Social Media and Suicide Prevention

Jo Robinson, Orygen

Jaelea Skehan, Hunter Institute of Mental Health

Michelle Blanchard, Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre

It is clear that the world in which we live has forever changed.  Services that work directly with young people will tell you that technology is not so much important to young people but part of who they are.  Social media has become a powerful tool for young people to connect and engage with each other, but at the same time we know it presents an ongoing challenge for services, mental health providers, parents, schools and young people themselves. This session will bring together researchers, service providers and the views of young people in considering the challenges and opportunities of engaging young people in suicide prevention activity in a digital world.

  1. Jo Robinson will describe a series of studies that examine the ways in which social media platforms are currently being used in the field of suicide prevention and to discuss potential future opportunities, including new work delivering interventions to young people via social media.

  2. Jaelea Skehan and Michelle Blanchard will  outline priorities set at a national roundtable in 2013 and lead a discussion about collaborative action and innovative solutions to ensure safe and effective online interactions across communities and services.

For presenters biographies, please see our speakers webpage.


Feature Session

Hacking mental health - exploring creative technology solutions for mental health issues

Janet Hopkins, SANE Australia

This fast-paced session will bring together developers, communicators, community members and mental health experts to work on technology solutions to mental health challenges. Participants will be provided with an opportunity to work together to come up with new ideas and solutions for mental health. While some hack-a-thons can go for a full day or a full week, this one will go for a full session only – so a ‘speed-hack’. The session will run on day one and offer participants the opportunity to work through the conference to further develop their ideas and submit a solution by the end of day 2.  For more information about the session, click here

Biography available on our speakers webpage. – the world’s first online mental health service

Dr Kerrie Buhagiar

Justin Farrell

This presentation will explore the story behind – from its inception and launch as the world’s first online mental health service in 1998, through its evolution over the past 16 years to adapt to new and emerging technologies. We will take the audience on a journey through our history of online mental health service provision and product development, sharing insights and lessons we have learned along the way. We will also glimpse into the future of, and consider some of the future possibilities for e-mental health.

Biography available on our speakers webpage.


Intercepting Men. A 360 degree approach: character, content and context

Janine Scott, beyondblue

Getting men to talk about issues they may see as emotional, personal, stigmatising or even unmanly isn’t easy.  But here in Australia male suicides outnumber female suicides 5 to 1, so getting through to men is literally a matter of life and death.  Why then are men more at risk?  Simply because woman seek early support on depression and anxiety, and men do not.  Recognising early symptoms of depression and anxiety is a life skill we all need, so in order to communicate successfully and change men’s behaviour, beyondblue scanned the globe for world’s best strategies and then invested in adaptive research on home soil.  On behalf of beyondblue, Janine will share what we have learned about the barriers to help-seeking for Australian men and how we have found we can get through.

Biography available on our speakers webpage.


It's worth a try - integrating technology into the treatment of mental health and addictive disorders

Frances Kay-Lambkin, NHMRC CRE in Mental Health and Substance Use

The use of technology, such as computerised and internet-based programs, has typically been applied to people experiencing mild-moderate mental health symptoms.  However, promising research emerging from Australia indicates that people with psychotic disorders, as well as those with severe depression and alcohol/other drug use disorders, have ready access to the Internet, report using the internet to search for information about their mental health problems, and are open to using internet-based treatments to assist them in managing their symptoms.  This presentation will report on the latest developments in this important area, including acceptability of these technologies by program users.  Rather than developing effective computerized/internet-based treatments for people with the spectrum of mental health problems, including comorbidity, the challenge may be more in the promotion of these treatment modalities to providers and clients, and in providing support to engage with these approaches.  The emergence of Web 2.0 technology, such as social media and networking, may provide a solution; the potential of which will be discussed.

Biography available on our speakers webpage.


Visualising Ambient Play

Professor Larissa Hjorth, RMIT University

Increasingly camera phone practices can be found within all facets of everyday life. In particular, camera phone image sharing plays a specific role in, and around, mobile gaming. This talk proposes an understanding of camera phone photography as an important part and yet often unofficial part of mobile gaming.
Through the case study of a mobile game (keitai mizu) made for Tokyo in a post earthquake, tsunami, Fukushima reactor disaster (known as ‘3/11’)—which deploys camera phone app, Instagram—I reflect upon the concept of ambient play as a productive way for defining mobile gaming beyond the problematic label of casual play (which camouflages the various forms of labour involved). I argue that designing mobile gaming around ambient play can help to engage various forms of emotional and social well-being.

Biography available on our speakers webpage.


Technology Helps Save Lives in Suicide Prevention

Angela Mason, Lifeline

From its start in 1963, Lifeline has been a user of technology in the pursuit of its vision of an Australia Free of Suicide. The commencement of a telephone crisis line 51 years ago was an innovative use of the telephone, which at that time was a technology still finding its way into all homes in Australia. Showing our national predisposition to adopting new technologies, the Lifeline telephone crisis line, now known as 13 11 14, is a household name; more than 95% of Australian recognise Lifeline and similar numbers report Lifeline is a trusted name in crisis support and suicide prevention.

Things have moved on. Today, technology based services have a particular place in suicide prevention. The ease of use, privacy and choice of mode available to the individual mean technology based services align easily to the help seeking preferences of many people. Various forms of technology enabled services provide people with care and support – mobile phone, mobile app, online chat, website resources, social media sites and open forums all exist now.

Lifeline sees the difference technology can make in the lives of people. Each day, Lifeline telephone crisis supporters initiate suicide safety checks with more than 150 people. Almost half of the visitors to the online chat service state they are feeling suicidal at the time of contact. Lifeline’s website is one of the most visited NGO sites in the country. Technology is providing services that are immediate, available and relevant to people who need crisis support. In doing so, technology is a vital partner in saving lives from suicide.

Biography available on our speakers webpage.


Always on - challenges of online counselling in a world that never sleeps 

Randal Newton-John, On the Line

As a society we’re looking to the digital experience more and more and tele-health is at the tipping point in forming a significant part of our health system. Hear how leading not-for-profit On the Line uses technology to keep people alive, helping them through some of the toughest times in their lives. The charity has recently launched Australia’s first 24 hour, seven day a week on demand video and online counselling service. Executive General Manager – Operations, Randal Newton-John will share how professional counsellors manage the balance between connecting on a personal level, utilising new technologies, and meeting increasing demand.  On the Line operates throughout Australia, particularly reaching those in isolated rural and remote regions.

Biography available on our speakers webpage.

Got a lot going on? No Shame in talking it out.

Elisabeth Tuckey, headspace

That’s the message from headspace to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people around Australia. Thanks to a new campaign, developed by headspace and an amazing group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, this message will be heard from Broome to Melbourne to Arnhem Land.
Late last year headspace brought together 11 young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to develop a youth-led mental health and wellbeing campaign that highlights the specific issues their communities and people within them face. Using a co-design model, the development of the campaign has been driven by the vision and commitment of this group of young people and the result is a truly astonishing awareness and engagement piece.

Biography available on our speakers webpage.


Why Montessori would have loved digital technology?

Daniel Donahoo, Project Synthesis

This presentation will explore the history of children and young people's relationships with screens and technology. It will look at how and why we have developed certain ideas around screentime and the role technology has in our lives. It will unpack why parents feel guilty and offer a new paradigm based on research and emerging ideas that look at how technology offers us an increasingly human experience. The talk will think about the role of technology in parent-child relationships, our fears, the opportunities and the problems we face if we don't change our understanding of the role of technology in the life of the family.

Biography available on our speakers webpage.


Positive Computing: Technologies for wellbeing and human potential

Associate Professor Rafael Calvo, University of Sydney

Digital technologies have made their way into all the aspects of our lives that, according to psychology, influence our wellbeing -- everything from social relationships and curiosity to engagement and learning.  By bringing together research and methodologies well-established in psychology, education, neuroscience and human-computer interaction, we can begin to cultivate a new field dedicated to the design and development of technology that supports wellbeing and human potential.

In this talk will introduce our Human-Computer interaction work aiming to support psychological wellbeing.

Biography available on our speakers webpage.


Keeping young people connected, safe and well online

Dr Michelle Blanchard, Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre

The Young and Well Cooperative Research Centre ( is an Australia-based, international research centre that unites young people with researchers, practitioners, innovators and policy-makers from over 70 partner organisations. Together, we explore the role of technology in young people’s lives, and how it can be used to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people aged 12 to 25.

The Young and Well CRC is established under the Australian Government’s Cooperative Research Centres Program.

Biography available on our speakers webpage.


Building a Community of Excellence - Keeping young Indigenous people engaged, connected and safe online

Zoe Betar, National Centre of Indigenous Excellence

The National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) has created a unique social media platform for Indigenous Australians, the 'Community of Excellence'.  The Community has a specific focus of supporting, engaging, and connecting Indigenous youth in an online environment.  Zoe Betar, Community Catalyst from the Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX) team at the NCIE, will be talking about achievements, challenges and opportunities encountered so far, and the direction of the Community platform in the near future.

Biography available on our speakers webpage.


Racism: challenges and responsibilites online

Luke Pearson, IndigenousX

Luke is a experienced Primary teacher and anti-racism trainer who has immersed himself in the world of online media, commentary, education, and anti-racism for the past 5 years.

Luke will share some of the highlights, and lowlights, of this journey and consider what opportunities and responsibilities the rest of us share in dealing with racism online, and doing our best to keep our kids strong, safe, and free from hate in an online world.

Biography available on our speakers webpage.