Regional and rural focus for UniSC in new ‘virtual’ mental health institute

University of the Sunshine Coast

The mental health of older Australians and graduates will be a key focus for University of the Sunshine Coast researchers involved in the newly-announced Manna Institute.

The nationwide Manna Institute was launched yesterday and is the result of a $3.66 Commonwealth grant under the Regional Research Collaboration Program, created to help improve the mental health and wellbeing of rural, regional and remote communities.

Seven universities are collaborating across the Regional Universities Network to form the institute ‘virtually’ and share strengths, with a portion of the funding flowing to UniSC for vital projects.

UniSC’s Principal Investigator to the institute, Dr Mia Schaumberg said UniSC would focus on the mental health of Australia’s ageing population, due to its research strengths in the area.

“The number of seniors living with mental health challenges is expected to double by 2030, and older people are more likely to experience physical illness that can contribute to mental decline,” Dr Schaumberg said.

“It’s a growing concern that is not unique to those living in the major cities.

“Poor mental health can be exacerbated when health and wellbeing services aren’t as readily available, or family and friends are further away, which is one of the reasons why people residing in regional and remote areas are particularly vulnerable.

“Depression and anxiety are also significant risk factors for dementia in later life, so it’s vital that we look for solutions as the population ages,” she said.

Dr Schaumberg will be joined by colleague Dr Dan Wadsworth, who will lead a project to investigate how to best equip graduating students to enter the workforce with the mental health tools to support themselves and others through their chosen professions.

“UniSC has fantastic student wellbeing support, and we’re looking at how these support mechanisms could also form the basis of a toolkit that graduates can use in their career, particularly when they are entering frontline careers such as paramedicine or nursing,” Dr Schaumberg said.

UniSC Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Helen Bartlett said regional universities across Australia often tackled similar problems for their communities and had different priorities to metropolitan areas, so it made sense to join forces and share knowledge.

“By pooling our expertise and resources and harnessing the relationship through the network, we can create impactful work that is relevant to a wider group and a larger population of Australia,” Professor Bartlett said.

“Healthy ageing is a particular research strength at UniSC, so it’s fantastic that we have the opportunity to spread our impact and expertise across regional and remote Australia through this collaboration.”

The institute has partnered with industry and community partners including Everymind, Lifeline Direct and the ANU Centre for Mental Health Research to support researchers in tailoring solutions to their regions.

More information on the Manna Institute is here: https://mannainstitute.au/

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