The University of Wollongong takes Mental Health very seriously – and we wanted to dedicate this month to highlighting research projects and partnerships that are working towards good mental health for young and old. We celebrate Professor Xu-Feng Huang on his NHMRC grant for research into schizophrenia, share recent work from Dr Stewart Vella on a sports-based program to promote health and wellbeing among young men with the Movember Foundation, we’ll showcase PhD student Johanna Meyer who has just submitted her thesis in clinical anxiety, and acknowledge Johanna’s supervisor A/Prof. Peter Kelly who is leading a trial with SMART Recovery Australia for a phone app that helps people manage problematic behaviours like drug and alcohol misuse, smoking, gambling and shopping.

Previous research impact stories we’d like to highlight are the Project Air strategy to combat Personality Disorders, and the Dementia Friendly communities project.

What will you do to celebrate and acknowledge World Mental health Day on the 10th October?

Project Air

The Project Air Strategy for Personality Disorders is an internationally recognised leader in research, education and treatment. With partners in health and justice communities, schools, families and individuals with a lived experience of personality disorders, it brings new scientific discoveries to promote recovery for people living with a range of Disorders including: Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD), Antisocial Personality Disorder (APD), Paranoid, and Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorders.

Project Air has delivered tangible benefits for health services and patients, with health, societal, educational and economic impacts such as improved clinical practice and patient outcomes, and better patient and carer support.

Project Air Team
The Project Air Strategy team.

This project is the first in the world to develop a ‘whole of service’ approach to improving the treatment of personality disorder. It has implemented the first peer-reviewed stepped-care model of personality disorder treatment, including comprehensive whole of service clinical guidelines, which have since been cited by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). It has influenced national strategies aimed at improving clinical care for those with personality disorder, increased awareness, and given the community a national voice.

Research and action to pioneer dementia friendly communities

The increasing prevalence of dementia will demand a shift in both the social and the physical environments within which we live. Low levels of public understanding can contribute to the fear, stigma and social exclusion associated with living with dementia. Public spaces and civic buildings are not often designed in ways which are supportive of people with dementia & participating in civic life. ‘Dementia friendly’ communities aim to address this by empowering people with dementia and increasing their social inclusion. They also aim to create more supportive physical environment to enable participation.

The ‘Dementia Friendly Kiama’ project is a partnership between the University of Wollongong, the Global Challenges Program, the Kiama Municipal Council, the Kiama community and Dementia Australia. The project utilises a Community-based Participatory Action Research framework to inform the development, implementation and evaluation of a multicomponent dementia-friendly community intervention.

Dementia Friendly communities Team
Dementia Friendly Communities team

Research in Kiama has included interviews and mapping exercises with people with dementia and their carers, community and business surveys, piloting a Dementia-friendly business toolkit and the development of an environmental assessment tool for use in the auditing of public buildings.

The research has achieved public recognition and acclaim – it received an Excellence in Community Partnerships Award at the National Disability Awards (2016) and was recognised at the 7th Global Conference for the Alliance of Healthy Cities (2016) by the World Health Organisation. The model and tools have also informed Dementia Australia’s $3.9 million ‘National Dementia Friendly Communities Strategy’ funded by the Department of Health, 2017-2021.

The project is led by Dr Lyn Phillipson, a public health researcher who also appeared as an expert witness before the Aged Care Royal Commisssion last August.

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