“Around 75 percent of all people who complete the program show a measurable improvement in their mental health or recover completely.”— Dr Jeannie Yoo, Chief Medical Officer and Clinical Innovation Lead, Australian Unity.
- Paula* became anxious and depressed after she was diagnosed with a very rare and aggressive form of cancer.
- Participating in the Mindstep program gave Paula new coping skills and strategies to manage her mental health. It also helped her to start taking action on the things that were within her control.
- The Mindstep program is open to all Australian Unity customers who have held eligible hospital cover for 12 months or more, and who are experiencing mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety or depression. A formal referral from a healthcare provider is not required.
At the age of 62, Paula* was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of cancer. The shock of the diagnosis, coupled with the physical toll of ongoing treatments, left her feeling isolated, distressed, anxious and depressed.
Then, after a hospital stay, Paula was contacted by Australian Unity to see whether she would be interested in participating in the mental health coaching program Mindstep.
The program, offered through Australian Unity's partner Remedy Healthcare, is based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). It focuses on empowering individuals to catch, challenge and change unhelpful thinking patterns, helping them gain insights, set priorities, and develop skills and strategies to manage their mental health and wellbeing.
For Paula, the suggestion from her health insurance provider came “at a very opportune time”.
Setting goals and breaking them down
Paula says her Mindstep journey started with a “problem-statement session” that helped her articulate and begin to process what was she was going through and how she felt about it.
Through a series of weekly coaching sessions, she started unpicking her complex tangle of emotions, stresses and fears. She learned to scrutinise her worries and anxieties, distinguishing between probable and improbable concerns, what was within her control, and what wasn’t.
Anxiety and depression can feel like being stuck in the mud, because tasks feel so utterly overwhelming. For example, “One of the major goals I had was looking at getting power of attorney, sorting out my bank account, doing the advanced care plan—all of that gave me a lot of anxiety,” says Paula.
“It just made me feel more positive and that I can control some things—that I’m not totally out of control.”
—Paula*, Australian Unity
health insurance customer
Guided by her mental health coach, Inouk, Paula was eventually able to conquer these and other daunting tasks by breaking them down into smaller, more manageable segments. From decluttering to exercising, taking it one step at a time and a “some is better than none” attitude gave Paula a sense of momentum and accomplishment.
“It just made me feel more positive that I can control some things—that I’m not totally out of control,” she says.
"Worry Time" and other Mindstep tools
Mindstep sessions are supported by a series of self-help worksheets on different topics, which participants can use to develop new skills for managing their mental health.
“On one worksheet I went through and wrote down my values, and that actually helped me a lot with writing up my advanced care plan and what I would really like to happen, and that settled me,” says Paula.
She also started journalling, learned about good sleep hygiene, and implemented different techniques to rein in anxious thoughts.
“When I get really worried, I do journal and I use the tools in the worry segment—so, ‘Is it likely to happen?’, ‘Is it a real worry?’—and I can often now do that without writing it down, which is really good,” she says.
“Establishing a ‘Worry Time’ was important as well. So I think: ‘I’m not worrying about that because it’s not my Worry Time.’ And then Worry Time comes up and I think: ‘Well, I’m not really that fussed about it now, but I’ll think through it so it doesn’t come back.’”
Encouraged by Inouk, Paula also got in touch with the Cancer Council, which became an invaluable support. This led her to research other websites and resources, and she found some groups specifically for people suffering from very rare cancers, which made her feel less alone.
Mindstep: Supporting the Real Wellbeing of our community
As a social enterprise with a history spanning more than 180 years, Australian Unity is “always looking for ways we can support community needs”, says Rebecca Windsor, CEO of Health Insurance at Australian Unity. And with Australian Unity Wellbeing Index research showing mental distress was at an all-time high in 2022, the Mindstep program is now more relevant than ever.
Rebecca says that because a decline in mental health affects people’s quality of life, relationships and community connection, a program like Mindstep aligns perfectly with Australian Unity’s mission to promote and support its members’ Real Wellbeing. She emphasises that Mindstep is open to all Australian Unity customers who have held eligible hospital cover for at least 12 months and who exhibit mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety or depression. No formal referral from a healthcare provider is required.
Since it launched in 2016, the program has seen some “really outstanding” results, notes Dr Jeannie Yoo, Australian Unity's Chief Medical Officer and Clinical Innovation Lead.
“Around 75 percent of all people who complete the program show a measurable improvement in their mental health or recover completely,” she says. Jeannie believes the remarkable consistency of these results reflects the strength of Mindstep’s practical and evidence-based approach.
Paula is still taking her mental health one step at a time, but she knows she’s made progress—especially when she reflects on her “problem statement” from her first Mindstep session. In it, she described feeling “a hole in my stomach” when she thought about her cancer. “And then as we went along, I noticed that feeling wasn’t there as much anymore,” she says. “So I seem to be able to cope with things better.”
If this article has raised concerns, remember help is available. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14, Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, or if it is an emergency, call 000.
*Not her real name.
Information provided in this article is of a general nature. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest. Interviewee titles and employer are cited as at the time of interview and may have changed since publication.
Remedy Healthcare Group Pty Limited and Australian Unity Health Limited are wholly owned subsidiaries of Australian Unity Limited.
An Australian Unity health partner, Remedy Healthcare provides targeted, solution-oriented healthcare that is based on clinically proven techniques. For more than 10 years, Remedy Healthcare has worked with more than 100,000 Australians – helping them to manage their health through caring, coaching, empowerment and support.