How research can help people experiencing mental health problems

Many treatments exist to help with addiction, psychotic disorders & other illness. 

Mental health research has already helped a lot with psychological, social and pharmacological treatments.

The bad news is that most do not get these evidence based treatments.  For example, just 10% of those with depression actually get proper treatments.

More research, including clinical trials, is the key to improvement:

  • People in clinical trials receive the latest, cutting-edge care;
  • Focussed mental health research can unpack the reasons behind the gap in the availability of care
  • Research is the ONLY way in which new treatments can be designed, developed, tested, and disseminated in a safe, consistent, and quick way.


“Research is the key to better knowledge, detection and treatment for mental ill-health, just as in all forms of potentially serious illness,” said Professor McGorry AO, President of The Society for Mental Health Research. 

“Thanks to medical research, mortality and recovery rates in cancer and [heart] disease have significantly improved…These gains are yet to be won in mental illness” McGorry said. 

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  • One in four are likely to develop a mental illness between the ages of 15 & 24
  • One in five employees are likely to be experiencing a mental-ill health condition, including anxiety, brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s and psychosis such as schizophrenia
  • Depression is the leading disease-burden in countries such as Australia
  • Many remain untreated
  • Depression typically first appears in people aged 20–25 years
  • Depression symptoms results in more than six million working days lost each year in Australia
  • Severe depression is rated in the same disability category as terminal stage cancer
  • Up to a third experience an anxiety disorder at least once
  • Mental health disorders cost Australian workplaces over $11 billion every year in absenteeism, reduced productivity and compensation claims  
  • The cost of mental illness substance abuse to the community is even greater. 

How SMHR is helping people experiencing mental health problems...

The Society for Mental Health Research (SMHR) is the national peak body for psychiatric and mental health research in Australia. SMHR members include psychiatrists, psychologists and allied health disciplines, statisticians, epidemiologists, neuroscientists, geneticists, social scientists, mental health nurses and health economists.

SMHR plays a key advocacy role in improving mental health research funding through its links with government, the organisation that makes major research grants (NHMRC), and the Mental Health Council of Australia. 

The Society represents all mental health researchers in Australia, from early-mid career through to senior researchers… both today’s research leaders, and tomorrow’s visionaries in mental health discovery. 

SMHR also represents all mental health research interests, including prevention, early intervention, treatment and recovery.  

SMHR is now the only Australian charity focused specifically and entirely on increasing the public investment in mental health research. 

SMHR will ensure that the best science and brightest minds are being applied to improve mental health.  


SMHR is at already putting donations from Australians to work.

In 2014, through the ABC’s “Mental As…” campaign on ABC TV, ABC Radio and other outlets, SMHR raised $1.5 million in public donations.  These donations funded 13 early career research fellowship awards.

Here are some of our current Early Career Researchers:


Dr Christina Marel, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales.

My research aims to improve our understanding of, and response to, co-occurring substance use and mental health disorders in complex populations.

What have you been able to achieve during your fellowship? 
I have been examining the diverse and challengingjourneys people makethrough recoveries from heroin dependence.In particular, I have been investigating the impact of treatment and significant life events (such as employment, marriage, birth of children, and deaths of loved ones) on pathways of heroin use.

What impact has your research had? I have led the development of national guidelines on the management of mental health conditions in alcohol and other drug treatment settings. The Guidelines aim to provide alcohol and other drug (AOD) workers with up-to-date, evidence-based information on the management of comorbid mental health conditions in AOD treatment settings. They are based on the best available evidence and draw upon the experience and knowledge of clinicians, researchers, consumers, and carers.


Is there anything you may have not been able to do without the funding? 
These achievements would not have been possible without the funding from SMHR.


What are the broader implications of your research? 
The Guidelines are currently being disseminated across Australia to all AOD services, TAFEs and universities, and an online training program is in development. This research has the potential to guide more effective interventions and public health responses to substance use and mental health disorders. 

Dr Christina Perry, The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health

I have been using a preclinical model to examine cognitive decline after chronic alcohol exposure. 

What have you been able to achieve during your fellowship? 
I have piloted a number of different cognitive tests, providing measures performance on a range of specific cognitive domains. Many of these affect the likelihood of a good outcome for behavioural therapy, and therefore understanding how they are impaired in alcoholism is important for designing effective programs of rehabilitation for alcohol-use disorder. 


What impact has your research had? 
The project is still at an early stage, as the experimental timeline is long. However, I hope that it will be able to provide clinically relevant information regarding cognitive barriers to behavioural change that might be present in alcohol-affected individuals. I also hope to be able to provide data regarding any beneficial cognitive of physical exercise, and whether it is viable as a non-pharmacological adjunct to behavioural therapy. 


Is there anything you may have not been able to do without the funding? 
This funding has allowed me to set up a project that I otherwise would not have been able to do. It allowed me to acquire equipment and experimental subjects to run the pilot experiment through which I am beginning to identify the specific cognitive domains that are affected by alcohol.


What are the broader implications of your research? 
Chronic alcohol exposure causes neurological and cognitive changes that can directly interfere with the process of changing maladaptive behavioural patterns. Thanks to this fellowship, I will be able to characterise these in a systematic way, hence providing insights into potential cognitive barriers which need to be taken into account when designing therapy for alcohol use disorders.


Dr Lexine Stapinski, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales

My research aims to improve understanding of how anxiety and alcohol problems develop and interact, and how we can intervene early on to reduce their impact and prevent escalation. 


What have you been able to achieve during your fellowship? 
My fellowship has allowed me to investigate the relationship between anxiety and alcohol/substance use in large studies of young people in Chile, the UK, and Australia. My work has revealed that anxious young people are susceptible to risky use of alcohol and other substances as a means of cope with their anxiety symptoms. 


What impact has your research had? 
This research has been published in two leading academic journals, and I have also presented the results at both national and international forums. I have presented a number of workshops and webinars for teachers, aimed at helping to improve their understanding of the risk factors and what they can do to help prevent alcohol-related harms among their students. 


Is there anything you may have not been able to do without the funding? 
I am currently developing the Making InRoADs early intervention for anxious young people at risk of harmful alcohol use. The development of this program and the research (described above) which informed its development would not be possible without the SMHR support. 


What are the broader implications of your research? 
Alcohol use disorders are a leading cause of death, disease and injury among young people, contributing to poor health, and risk of violent behaviour, including assaults, self-harm and suicide. Anxious young people are particularly susceptible to alcohol-related harms, and my research aims to improve anxiety symptoms, reduce reliance on alcohol as a coping mechanism, and interrupt the trajectory into alcohol disorder. 


Dr Nina McCarthy, University of Western Australia

 My research aims to identify genes that play a role in schizophrenia. 


What have you been able to achieve during your fellowship? 
During my fellowship I have been able to pursue research into ways of subtyping schizophrenia using a number of different measures, including genetics, in large Australian cohorts. 


What impact has your research had? 
My research in this area is still in the early stages, but I was very pleased recently with the invitation to give a talk about my research at the world congress of psychiatric genetics annual meeting in October in Israel.  I was also excited to be able to attend a workshop organised by the Meeting for Minds organisation to discuss the field of mental health research with people with lived experience and other researchers in the field. 


Is there anything you may have not been able to do without the funding? 
Without this fellowship from SMHR, I would not have been able to conduct this research. Our researchhas made important contribution to the growing evidence base for the genetic architecture of schizophrenia.


What are the broader implications of your research? 
The broader implications of my SMHR-funded research will be a better understanding of the biological causes of schizophrenia, and exploring whether these might not be the same in all people with a diagnosis. This will assist in better understanding disorder trajectory, and ultimately improving health outcomes of those living with this mental health disorder.


Dr Simon Rosenbaum, University of New South Wales

 My research investigates the role of exercise and physical activity in the treatment of mental disorders. 


What have you been able to achieve during your fellowship? 
During my fellowship I have been able to research novel ways of integrating clinical exercise programs within psychiatric treatment facilities. This has included investigating the link between muscular fitness and psychosocial functioning in young people with early psychosis, development of a new physical activity questionnaire for use in clinical settings, and the role of physical activity in the treatment and prevention of posttraumatic stress disorder. The fellowship has also provided for the establishment of a new exercise program within a youth treatment facility in Sydney that will have a lasting impact.


What impact has your research had? 
Our work has been covered by both local and international media, both in print and through radio interviews. In addition to conducting research, the fellowship has allowed me to play an advocacy role in promoting the integration of physical activity within mental health treatment services. 


Is there anything you may have not been able to do without the funding? 
Almost all of it! Without the fellowship, I would have had significantly less time to devote to research.


What are the broader implications of your research? 
I am confident that the work we are doing is contributing to achieving an ultimate goal of ensuring that lifestyle interventions including exercise and diet become an integrated and standard component of treatment within mental health facilities. 

Much critical mental illness research is still unfunded

300 times more money is donated to cancer research than to mental health research. 

Cancer research also receives twice the funding from government as opposed to mental health research. 

Yet mental health issues have twice the effect on Australia’s gross output. And the suffering from mental illness is immense.

“The brain is just as important as the heart or the breast or the bowel…. There is no health without mental health.” Professor McGorry said.

In 2014, SMHR received over double that number of research applications that it could fund. 

Unfunded research applications still include;

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD);
  • Mental illness and obesity;
  • Body image and mental health;
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • The use of technologies to enhance treatment in trauma & suicide risk;
  • Mental health of the ageing population;
  • Suicide and men’s health;
  • Sleep and autism;
  • Mental health and mining, including Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) issues.

“More funding will more important discoveries in each of these important areas” says Professor McGorry.

We can all do something right now

Professor McGorry, SMHR President, said “What SMHR is doing is critical… we are committed to funding innovative research that has clear outcomes in a short period of time… It will transform mental health in Australia by bridging this gap between research and practice.  

“We want to not only raise more awareness of mental-ill health, but action. We want reform in mental health, not just in research but in better services for people too.”

The ABC’s "Mental As" fundraising campaign can only allocate funding to SMHR over two years, which finishes at the end of 2015. 

For SMHR to continue to offer sustainable funding for innovative mental health research from 2016 and beyond, new sources of philanthropic support are now needed. 

That’s why your funding for our monthly donation scheme, or regular giving, is critical.

“Funding of medical research in general is a great investment for Australia,” Professor McGorry said. “Mental health is by far the best buy because people affected by mental illness are in the prime productive years of life. Their outcomes don’t just relieve suffering, they result in economic benefits for society.” 

How your donation can help

Here are some examples of how grants funded by your regular or other donation will be used:

  • Collecting pilot data in areas like depression, anxiety, addiction, and genetics
  • Improving treatment programs for ‘ice’ use, online social support programs, services for survivors of trauma
  • Targeting a particular issue of concern like mental health stigma
  • Developing support programs for family members and friends of those supporting people with mental illness
  • Allowing early career researchers to collect vital start up data for their breakthrough ideas and potential cures.

“Every bit of money raised helps enormously, and with the focus of our research, we know that every donor will reap the benefits,” said Professor McGorry. 

Regular giving provides more opportunities to make a genuine, ongoing difference

Our mental health researchers work day in, day out, for years on end.

This can only be done if funding is certain and ongoing.  

Otherwise Australia, and mental health research, loses the best people. 

Regular giving, via monthly deductions from your credit card or bank account, is the best way to ensure sufficient funds for the best solutions from research. 

Will you please make a regular, ongoing donation today please?

Please donate at little as $19 month. That’s about a coffee a week. 

If possible, could you make a regular gift at a higher level, like $29 or $49 a month? Here’s some examples of what you donation can contribute towards: 

  • $40 will provide one hour of clinical treatment to a participant in a clinical research trial;
  • $100 will enable a research participant to gain access to an online clinical treatment research program;
  • $500 will cover the cost of a cutting-edge brain imaging scan to explore how the brain is affected in mental illness;
  • $750 will enable a young researcher to attend a major research conference to present their work and get input for treatment delivery; and
  • $1500 will allow early career researchers to communicate their latest findings rapidly in open access journals, facilitating uptake by clinicians offering treatment to people with mental health problems.

If you are unable to make a regular contribution, please give as much as you can right now.

All donations to SMHR are tax deductible.

Please donate now.

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