National mental health research centre guided by lived experience for better outcomes

The University of Melbourne has welcomed $10 million to establish a national research translation centre to improve health outcomes for Australians with mental illness and reduce the individual, social and economic inequities associated with current care.

Launched today by Minister for Health, Greg Hunt and Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, David Coleman, the centre will establish a national Academy of LIVed-Experience (ALIVE), ensuring members with experience of mental ill health are at the forefront of research to co-design and transform the mental health care system.

The centre will be funded over five years through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Special Initiative in Mental Health grant and will operate as a virtual network across 14 university partners from all states and territories. It will support the move from reform to implementation of change in mental health care in Australia.

The centre will be led by Associate Professor Victoria Palmer who leads the University of Melbourne’s Integrated Mental Health Research Program and is internationally recognised for her expertise in primary care mental health research and co-design.

“Despite the investment in mental health services and reforms over the past 30 years, we have not begun to bend the growth curve on mental health problems in Australia,” Associate Professor Palmer said.

“ALIVE aims to improve the dire situation we currently see for people’s physical health, as well as the 25-year life expectancy gap we see for people with severe mental illnesses.”

The national initiative will bring together a diverse range of professionals, including government bodies, charities, and community-based organisations. They will join more than 2200 members with lived experience of mental illness and carers of people with mental health needs who are part of an existing Co-Design Living Lab established by Associate Professor Palmer.

The centre will focus on implementing preventative interventions across the whole life course and integrated care in primary care and community-based settings. Priority populations include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and people who are living with severe mental illnesses.

“Primary care is essential to delivering mental health care to the wider community and working across settings,” Associate Professor Palmer said.

“By working hand-in-hand with those living with mental illness and carers we aim to develop a better system of care which saves lives and improves outcomes. The centre represents a new era in mental health care and one that will be co-designed at all levels.”

University of Melbourne Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Mark Hargreaves said the centre will be vital in driving innovation and evidence-based solutions at a national level.

“Australia is home to some of the world’s leading mental health researchers,” Professor Hargreaves said.

“This national centre is about bringing together researchers, health professionals and those with lived experience to translate high-quality research into effective health policy practice and healthcare improvements at a time when Australians need it most. It will also grow and develop the next generation of mental health researchers in Australia.”

Minister for Health Greg Hunt said the centre will use research to rethink models of mental health care and the way they are delivered, to find a national solution to a national problem.

“The Australian Government’s investment in mental health services and suicide prevention in 2020-21 is at a record high of $5.9 billion. However, more services alone will not address the mental health burden in Australia,” Minister Hunt said.

“This centre will drive a national research agenda to deliver innovative, evidence-based mental health care. The centre complements the National Mental Health Commission’s reform program so that all people in Australia can lead fulfilling lives, participating socially and economically in thriving communities.”

ALIVE will operate with an independent governance board chaired by University of Melbourne Professor Allan Fels.

An intersectoral policy and practice committee will be co-chaired by University of Queensland Professor Cameron Parsell and Mental Health Australia Policy and Research Director Mr Harry Lovelock to support translational work. The centre will foster national and international collaborations through its International Scientific Advisory Committee with representation from lived-experience leaders at all levels.

Participating universities include Curtin University, La Trobe University, Monash University, University of Western Australia, University of South Australia, Griffith University, University of Adelaide, University of Tasmania, University of New South Wales, University of Newcastle, University of Queensland, University of Sunshine Coast, Swinburne University and James Cook University.

ALIVE: A national research translation centre to implement change in mental health care in Australia

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