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Several high profile cases have recently demonstrated how devastating mental illness can be. Wielding its heavy arm, it can have terrible consequences for individuals and their families.
When it comes to mental illness, personality disorders are probably one of the least understood forms. Highly stigmatised, they are often at the pervasive end of mental illness and can be difficult to treat, especially if the symptoms and behaviours go unnoticed.
Deakin researcher Ms Shae Quirk is determined to help bring these disorders into the open, so that the number of people who have to deal with them is better understood, and practitioners can help with the various secondary health issues they face.
Working within Deakin’s IMPACT Strategic Research Centre, Ms Quirk has just been awarded a prestigious NHMRC scholarship to assist her to complete the final year of her PhD research on this topic.
Personality disorders include borderline personality disorder and obsessive compulsive personality disorder, and other less well known disorders such as avoidant or schizotypal personality disorder.
"We all have a personality. We all think and behave differently. However, individuals who have a personality disorder have different patterns of thinking about themselves and the world around them, which are extreme and problematic," Ms Quirk said. "In fact, we believe these disorders can also have an effect on physical health outcomes too."
Her research is investigating whether these disorders increase physical risks in areas such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, muscular skeletal diseases and various other health problems, particularly as a result of lifestyle factors.
Ms Quirk is using the Geelong Osteoporosis Study to determine the prevalence of personality disorders in the community. As the largest epidemiological study in the Geelong region, this Study provides a treasure trove of data that can be used to understand a range of health and social issues.
Once she has completed her PhD, Ms Quirk hopes to continue her research through a post-doctorate fellowship. She also plans to extend her knowledge by travelling overseas to work with experts on personality disorders in Canada and Scandinavia later this year.
She is very determined to continue her research on personality disorders - offering more light at the end of the tunnel for those in our community who need it most.