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Alumni Stories

Grads 2024: Ed Barrow

Trying to understand why people are the way they are is what drew me to psychology” says Ed Barrow, who graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Psychology (Honours) from the University of Canberra.

But it was those closest to Ed who had a profound impact on his desire to become a clinical psychologist.

“I think it mostly stemmed from my younger brother being diagnosed with autism and how he made me understand and accept differences in people,” he says.

“I’ve also seen how effective interventions can be. He’s been to speech therapists, occupational therapists, psychologists – who are not trying to make him fit to a societal norm, but who are trying to help him have the best life that he can have.”

Ed also considers his father to be a great role model when it comes to mental health, despite coming from a generation of men that would often be seen to suppress their feelings and be less open about their struggles.

“Dad can be quite vulnerable with me, which has set a great example seeing a nearly 60-year-old man expressing himself, as I understand it can be quite difficult,” he says.

In 2018, Ed left his home in Sydney to study engineering and psychology at the Australian National University (ANU).

“I didn't really enjoy the engineering side, but I was really enjoying psychology, so I focused on that instead and finished my undergraduate degree at ANU before doing my honours year at UC in 2023,” says Ed.

His Honours project looked at adolescent mental health and physical activity.

“It explored whether differences in one’s duration and intensity of physical activity explained their differences in psychological distress.  Both resilience and wellbeing were also explored, investigating if these factors can help prevent poor mental health in adolescents and young adults between the ages of 12 and 25,” says Ed.

“I was drawn to adolescent mental health because they are our formative years. Adolescents and young adults are building their concept of who they are, their “self-identity”, all while going through life changes across social groups, puberty, leaving home, starting work, and pursuing higher education.”

Working with his supervisor, Professor Debra Rickwood, Ed used data from headspace, Australia’s National Youth Mental Health Foundation, to see which types of physical activity were most effective in reducing the psychological distress in young people. Ed says the findings were inconsistent with previous studies, however the next step forward is to investigate differences between team and individual sports, due to the social aspect potentially playing a greater role than duration and intensity in buffering against poor mental health.

Ed hopes that this work will have a real-world impact, with mental health challenges such as depression being particularly prevalent for young people aged between 12 and 25 years old.

“It’s important to find interventions to help manage emotions and preventative strategies to curb the onset of a potential disorder, before they become a potentially major problem in your life,” he says.

Alongside his studies in Canberra, Ed has been volunteering with Lifeline for the past two years, while over the past three years, he has been working in school settings as an early intervention specialist and a support worker for in-home therapy with children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Ed’s dedication to the area of adolescent mental health in his Honours year earned him the 2024 Herbert Burton Medal.

First awarded in 1984, the medal is named in honour of the late Emeritus Professor Herbert (Joe) Burton who chaired the committee that recommended the establishment of the University’s preceding institution, the Canberra College of Advanced Education.

The award is presented annually to a student graduating with a bachelor's degree, considered to have achieved outstanding academic results and to have made a valuable contribution to the University or wider community – recognition that Ed says was a distant goal that he didn’t imagine achieving.

“I was shocked when the email came through, but upon reflection, it has made my years of additional work feel extremely validated and purposeful,” he says.

“To receive a medal that not only highlights how much I applied myself to my studies over the past year, but also incorporates and recognises my service to the community and the University, is incredibly validating.”

Ed’s mum, dad and partner are travelling from Sydney to attend the graduation ceremony at the National Convention Centre Canberra.

“I haven’t told my parents about the medal, so it’ll be a good surprise for them!”

Now, Ed is pursuing his postgraduate qualifications at UC, spending the next two years completing a Master of Clinical Psychology.

“I’m really enjoying clinical placements and have loved the experience of working with clients at the UC Health Clinics,” Ed says.

He is eager to gain experience across a range of areas in psychology, including forensic, public health settings, private practice and working in schools, to name a few. The aim: working as a psychologist with the adolescent and younger adult population.

“I just worked really hard over that past year to ensure that I could get to this next stage,” Ed says.

“The honour of receiving the medal has highlighted to me that I can achieve the goals that I set out, and I even if I don’t achieve them, be appreciative of the effort that I put in and acknowledge that I did my best.”

Words by Emma Larouche. Photos by Tyler Cherry.

This March, the University of Canberra congratulates the graduating class of 2024.

We are so glad to celebrate this milestone with you. You have overcome challenges with grace and resilience, and grown in remarkable ways.

Many of you are already making an impact in your chosen fields, and others have embarked on their postgraduate study path – we look forward to seeing what you achieve in these next steps in your amazing journeys.

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