NHMRC funds to support mental health for business owners and cancer survivors

Media release
09 December 2019

Deakin University academics will lead innovative research into mental and physical health thanks to $5.89 million in grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

The funding includes two NHMRC Ideas Grants, two Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies Grants, four Postgraduate Scholarships; and two Partnership Projects that will be matched by $1.43 million in partner funding from a number of high-profile collaborators.

A $559,073 partnership project spearheaded by Deakin Business School will help upskill accountants to deliver mental health first aid and build relationships with their small-medium enterprise clients, who are particularly vulnerable to mental health issues.

A $715,644 partnership project, led by researchers from Deakin's Centre for Quality and Patient Safety Research in the Institute for Health Transformation, will develop a mindfulness program to help Australia's more than one million cancer survivors improve their mental health.

Deakin's Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Research Professor Julie Owens congratulated the research teams on their success in such an important area.

"Improving mental health and wellbeing is a key focus of the work we are doing at Deakin to help build healthy communities. By working closely with industry, government and community partners, Deakin research can help find solutions to society's wicked problems, including improving mental health, to have practical and far-reaching impacts," Professor Owens said.

Professor Trish Livingston, Associate Dean for Research in Deakin's Faculty of Health, will lead the cancer survivor project, supported by partners at the Department of Health and Human Services, Epworth Healthcare, Smiling Mind, Western Health, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, Barwon Health and the Breast Cancer Network.

"More than one million Australians are living with cancer, and this is expected to increase substantially over the next 20 years due to population-based screening programs, improved treatments and an ageing population," Professor Livingston said.

"Three-quarters of people living with cancer experience fear of cancer recurrence, as well as high levels of depression and anxiety. There is an urgent need to address this issue and early support is critical to preventing this problem from becoming a chronic condition.

"Our recent work shows it may be possible to significantly reduce this level of suffering through a mindfulness program. Dr Lahiru Russell, whose PhD project informed this study, and our team have developed a simple and implementable program supporting survivors to improve health outcomes and reduce the fear and distress associated with cancer survivorship.

"This NHMRC funded study will determine the impact of this nine-week program, which if successful in improving mental health, will be rolled out across the country."

Professor Andrew Noblet, Director of Research in Deakin Business School's Department of Management, will lead Deakin's second successful partnership project, aimed at helping business advisors such as accountants better understand the business and personal needs of their small-medium enterprise clients. This project will be delivered in partnership with Mental Health First Aid Australia, Beyond Blue, the Institute for Public Accountants and Worksafe.

"The owners of small-medium enterprises are particularly vulnerable to experiencing depression, anxiety and other mental health conditions," Professor Noblet said.

"Mental health literacy programs like mental health first aid aim to improve knowledge and beliefs about conditions and offer an important avenue for the early identification, management or prevention of mental health conditions. But mental health first aid is predominately delivered in large organisations.

"In this research, our team will work with Australia's three largest accounting bodies, as well as peak mental health and workplace health authorities, to assess a new approach to undertaking mental health first aid training.

"This approach represents a comprehensive mental health prevention strategy that seeks to equip business advisors with the ability to identify and address the finance-related stressors experienced by small-medium enterprise owners prior to negative health impacts, and to then help reduce the resulting financial distress."

Ideas Grants

Professor Tania de Koning-Ward, School of Medicine - $726,660
This research will aid in the development of anti-malaria strategies that could be used to prevent malaria parasites from getting the essential nutrients they require to survive.

Professor Cathy Mihalopoulos, Head of Deakin Health Economics in the Institute for Health Transformation - $398,778
The 'Assessing Cost-Effectiveness (ACE) of Prevention of High Body Mass Index and Eating Disorders in Australia (ACE-HiBED)' study will determine the cost-effectiveness of integrated preventive interventions that address risk factors of eating disorders and high BMI combined.

Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies Grants

Professor Michael Berk, Director of the Centre for Innovation in Mental and Physical Health and Clinical Treatment - $ 1,511,716
This project aims to define a novel treatment for major depressive disorder - a leading cause of disability worldwide - by targeting angiotensin, a key modulator of the stress response and the immune system.

Professor Peter Vuillermin, School of Medicine - $1,624,181
Deakin and Barwon Health will lead an important new clinical trial involving more than 2000 children and 35 hospitals in the Children's Inpatient Research Collaboration of Australia and New Zealand (CIRCAN). The CIRCAN team will test a medication known as OM-85, hoping to reduce hospital admissions among young children with recurrent wheezing illnesses.

Postgraduate Scholarships

Susannah Bellows, School of Psychology - $113,963
This study will leverage from the 'Sleeping Sound in Adolescence' randomised controlled trial to examine the relationship between sleep and emotion regulation in adolescents with ADHD. Understanding the link between emotion dysregulation and sleep disturbances will inform clinical assessments and interventions, informing future clinical care.

Fay Karpouzis, Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition - $72,635
This project will evaluate OzHarvest's FEAST (Food Education and Sustainability Training), a nutrition program for primary school children. The program aims to educate students to improve their nutritional literacy, food waste awareness, and environmental responsiveness.

Tan Nguyen, Deakin Health Economics in the Institute for Health Transformation - $113,963
ACE Oral Health will address the evidence gap on the cost-effectiveness of dental treatment and health promotion programs, with the goal of informing evidence-based public policy decision-making, specifically to reduce oral health inequities.

Katherine Sievert, Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition - $62,685
This project aims to identify and understand the key political challenges of reducing the production and consumption of red meat in Australia and internationally, in order to inform policy actions for public health and environmental benefits.

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Media release Faculty of Health, Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin Business School, School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences, School of Medicine, School of Psychology Innovation in Mental Physical and Clinical Treatment (IMPACT), Institute for Physical Activity and Nutrition (IPAN)

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