Making the connection
Deakin researcher and psychologist Dr Lana Williams spends her time looking for connections. Her aim is to help people with mood, anxiety and personality disorders, particularly with their physical health, including their bones.
“It is generally not well known that people with these disorders have an increased risk of certain medical conditions, including those affecting bone,” Dr Williams said. “We have found those with mood disorders have reduced bone mineral density and increased risk of osteoporosis and fracture, compared to the general population.”
She hopes that her research will provide a greater understanding of the causes of this increase in fracture risk so that it can be more effectively measured and treated.
It is estimated that up to 30 per cent of the population suffer from some type of mood, anxiety or personality disorder.
Dr Williams is currently Senior Research Fellow and Head of the Division of Psychiatric Epidemiology within Deakin’s IMPACT Strategic Research Centre, overseeing a team of over 10 research assistants and students.
She has received a slew of awards and grants for her research, including a National Health and Medical Research Council Career Development Fellowship, which supports her program of research for five years. She also recently received the Smart Geelong Network “Karingal Living with a Disability Award” for her work investigating psychiatric disorders and bone health, and was awarded the Deakin Vice-Chancellor’s Early Career Award for Research Excellence.
Dr Williams believes that the bone problems that this diverse group experience are the result of an interplay between medication and other biological factors, such as increased inflammation, which may be caused by lifestyle and dietary factors.
One key outcome that she hopes will result from her research is a comprehensive understanding of this clinically important issue, which, in turn, will lead to changes in safety monitoring guidelines that incorporate recommendations for bone density scans, risk assessments and recommendations for prevention and treatment of poor skeletal health in psychiatric patients.
“We have also shown that mood, anxiety and personality disorders are associated with increased risk of other medical conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal diseases and atopic disorders,” Dr Williams said. “We hope that this research will not just achieve improved assessment and treatment, but will result in education programs that raise awareness of the risks and ways of achieving better outcomes across Australia.”