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Major boost for mental health research at UC

Marcus Butler

14 December 2017: People suffering severe mental illnesses will soon receive increased care to prevent physical diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and stroke thanks to a research project funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).

The project, led by SYNERGY: Nursing and Midwifery Research Centre, aims to reduce preventable physical illnesses which have been found to strip up to 25 years off the life-expectancy of people with psychosis.

SYNERGY is a collaborative partnership between the University of Canberra and ACT Health, with its Physical Health Nurse Consultant (PHNC) project awarded $667,021 in the latest NHMRC funding round.

SYNERGY Executive Director and leader of the project, Professor Brenda Happell, said Australia’s mental health system struggles to provide adequate physical health care for people diagnosed with a psychotic illness.

“People receiving treatment for psychosis are two to three times more likely to also suffer from cardiometabolic illnesses, including high-blood pressure, overweight and obesity, high blood sugar and high cholesterol which, of course, lead to other more serious health conditions,” Professor Happell said.

“The PHNC service was developed to provide a coordinated, nurse-led intervention to improve physical health care.”

The three-year project will trial a PHNC within the ACT Community Mental Health service.

Professor Happell said the PHNC will be offered alongside mental health care services, providing cardiometabolic assessment, risk management and care co-ordination.

“My collaborators and I are thrilled to receive this NHMRC funding, which will go towards an evaluation of PHNC services to measure its impact on a broad range of physical health indicators. We will measure improvements in the burden of disease risk factors, consumer experience of care, and cost-effectiveness.”

Research helping men preserve dignity after prostate cancer

The University’s Clinical Assistant Professor in Physiotherapy Irmina Nahon is also the beneficiary of an NHMRC grant, as an associated investigator in a separate project.

Dr Nahon is working alongside collaborators from the University of Queensland on a project to prevent and manage incontinence related to the removal of the prostate due to prostate cancer. The project has received $950,000 in the funding round.

“Our project will look at how best to train motor control, muscle endurance and strength to give men who’ve had their prostate removed due to prostate cancer, to prevent incontinence. It’s a topic close to my heart, as I did my PhD on the assessment and management of male urinary incontinence,” Dr Nahon said.