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Deakin University’s Alfred Deakin Professor Marita McCabe and Professor David Mellor, both of the School of Psychology and the Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing Research, were recently awarded honorary Professorships by one of China’s leading universities, Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
This honour coincided with Professors McCabe and Mellor signing a memorandum of understanding with Jiao Tong University - which is consistently ranked in the top five Chinese Universities - in establishing a partnership between Deakin University and the Shanghai Mental Health Centre (SMHC) which is affiliated with Jiao Tong University.
The research team from Deakin University has collaborated with SMHC in the areas of schizophrenia, mental health problems amongst adolescents and depression and dementia amongst older people.
It would appear that while the Chinese people have dealt effectively with issues of mental health in a manner appropriate to their culture, they were keen to incorporate the expertise in Western approaches to the treatment of mental health problems. These combined approaches to mental health concerns are expected to ease the increasing burden of mental illness and behavioural problems in the hospital setting, general community and the elderly.
In particular, the Deakin team, which comprises Professor McCabe, Professor Mellor and Dr Lynda Byrne from the School of Psychology and Professor Yifeng Xu, Professor Zeping Xiao,and Drs Sai Zou, Wenzhong Tan and Lingyi Pan of Jiao Tong University seek sto collaborate in joint research projects looking at how to manage the high levels of depression, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia that occur in the Chinese community.
"The Chinese are facing the same crisis in mental health care that Australia is," said Professor McCabe. "They also have an aging population. Problems in managing mental health concerns far exceed those experienced by mental health professionals in Australia. But our collaborators in China recognise that our team has significant expertise in this area, particularly with regards provision of effective, best practice in mental health care and delivery, whether it be in institutions, the home, or the broader community."
Professor Mellor, who is Associate Dean (International) in the Faculty of Health, said it had been a very useful and stimulating experience and his Chinese colleagues were eager to work with Deakin on some of the pressing issues for the most populace nation on earth and in seeing how we deal with such large problems.
"We can also learn strategies that are applicable to the Australian community as our population increases and - given recent population trends - becomes older," he said.
The collaboration between Deakin's School of Psychology and Centre for Mental Health and Wellbeing Research and Jiao Tong University’s SMHC has seen the development of an ambitious program of collaborative studies in diverse areas of mental health, such as anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, depression and behavioural problems associated with Alzheimer's disease.
“Yes, there is a lot of work to be done,” Professor McCabe said. “However, I have the greatest confidence in our team, and also our Chinese collaborators. We share their passion, energy and commitment towards helping their community."
Professor Mellor also sees this as a valuable way of helping place Deakin at the international forefront of mental health policy and practice, particularly as it relates to the mental health needs of the elderly.
"In some ways how civilised a given country is can be measured by the way it treats its elderly," he said.
"I am sure that both Australia and China want to - and will - lead the world as exemplars of the ethical and humane treatment of its elderly."
All parties hope the new East-West alliance created by the memorandum-of-understanding leads to a shared vision of timely and effective prevention and treatment of mental health problems at critical stages of the life cycle.