BMRI at forefront of mental illness campaign
6 January 2006
The University’s Brain and Mind Research Institute is about to take on a new role in the fight against mental illness, which is increasingly being recognised as the underlying cause of drug and alcohol problems among many young people.
The institute’s executive director, Professor Ian Hickie, has welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement of $54 million over four years for a consortium, the National Youth Mental Health Foundation, that combines the talents of the universities of Sydney and Melbourne. The money will support a range of initiatives to provide early and effective intervention in the 12-25 age group.
Professor Hickie said: “This is a major development and it’s great to have a central role in the delivery of it. It’s a reward for our University’s investment in the BMRI and we look forward to translating our research into real improvements in services.”
The consortium’s other members include the ORYGEN Research Centre at the University of Melbourne; the Australian Divisions of General Practice; and the Australian Psychological Society.
The BMRI will take the lead in stepping up community awareness of mental health and supplying education to service providers. One of the major concerns is the frequent failure by the friends, teachers and parents of those affected – and also by health professionals – to spot mental health problems when they arise. Clues such as a deterioration in school or academic performance, a withdrawal from family or social events and a sudden dependence on alcohol or drugs, may all reveal an underlying mental health problem.
“We know that 75 per cent of mental health problems start before the age of 25 and that mental health accounts for 60 per cent of the disability costs among 15 to 34-year-olds in Australia,” said Professor Hickie. “It has also been estimated that 50 per cent of alcohol and drug problems could be prevented if the earlier mental health problem had been dealt with.
“What we are failing to do is make contact with people before the onset of illness and find effective treatments to get them back to school or work.”
Funding for the foundation is part of a major drive by the government to tackle mental health and reduce the cost to society both of the disease and the consequent substance abuse disorders.
Currently only one in four young people experiencing mental health problems receives professional help. Even among young people with the most severe mental health problems only 50 per cent get professional help.
“We need to educate people about where to go to get treatment and how to find out what really works for them,” said Professor Hickie.
Set up in 2002, the Brain and Mind Research Institute brings together clinical and basic neurosciences research, helping people whose lives have been affected by the common and debilitating forms of psychiatric and neurological illness.