Prevention of Mental Disorders

Nutritional psychiatry

Another major focus of the SRC is to develop an evidence base for understanding the contribution of poor lifestyle practices to mental health problems. Partnering with public health organisations to develop public health messages relating to lifestyle and mental health is important and a primary aim. Our ongoing investigations will provide important data to support a preventative approach to mental illness that is highly innovative and of real importance in reducing the burden of these illnesses in the community. These studies will provide the evidence for a coherent public message about how to minimise the risk for depression.

A world-first trial that aims to answer the important question, "If I improve my diet, will my mental health improve?" has been developed. As such, we are in the process of recruiting approximately 200 adults suffering from major depression and randomising them to either a social support condition or an intensive dietary intervention. The dietary intervention will comprise counselling, advice, education and support for a period of three months. We will then examine the impact of dietary improvement on their depressive symptoms at the end of the trial period. This trial is being conducted at Barwon Health in Geelong and St Vincent's Hospital in Melbourne.

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Smoking and anxiety

Anxiety disorders and cigarette smoking commonly occur together. Given the widely known impact of cigarette smoking as a risk factor for the development of other health issues (such as cardiovascular disease, lung disease), it is prudent to assess the impact of smoking on the development of anxiety disorders. The aim of this project is to assess the association between cigarette smoking and anxiety disorder development, with a focus on how smoking may affect the expression of anxiety in the community. The project has drawn on data from three population-based studies: The Geelong Osteoporosis Study (GOS), the Tracing Opportunities and Problems in Childhood and Adolescence (TOPP) Study and the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort (MoBA). The results so far have demonstrated a robust association between smoking and the later development of anxiety, particularly when exposure occurs during rapid developmental phases such as gestation and adolescence.

Psychiatric and Medical comorbidities

Mood and anxiety disorders impose huge costs, both on the individual and the community, yet we have an incomplete understanding of their impact on lifestyle, social and in particular medical factors. Given the high prevalence and associated public health-care costs of common physical illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, and fragility fracture worldwide, it is important to investigate and better understand the association of these illnesses with mental health. Less is known whether personality disorders too are associated. Understanding the association between these factors and psychiatry is vital to successful health promotion, health care delivery, and disease management.

We have a program of research investigating medical, lifestyle and social outcomes associated with mood and anxiety disorders as well as personality disorders, within an epidemiological context (see "Psychiatric Epidemiology"). These studies generate important information that can be used to provide an insight into the interaction between physical and mental health. Also, a wide range of social, psychological and biological factors such as the presence of inflammation and/or oxidative stress are being investigated, which may explain these associations.

Impact of road accident variables on mental and physical health outcomes

Close to 300 people are killed on roads each year and another 16,000 injured require hospitalisation or treatment from allied health professionals. In addition to the tragic loss of life and disability incurred through motor vehicle accidents, the direct financial cost to the Victorian community of medical services and other compensation associated with road trauma is around $1billion per year. Further to this, many clients are left permanently disabled, are unable to return to work or other roles within families and communities, or continue to experience poor mental health for a time far beyond the duration of their physical injuries. Whilst the TAC maintains a largely 'no-fault' scheme, it is apparent from initial investigations, that individual client demographic and accident circumstance variables, including attributions of responsibility for the accident, may have a large effect on duration and quality of mental and physical health recovery, perceptions of service quality, and treatment costs. This study explores this relationship within the context of existing theoretical models of post-trauma recovery processes.

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