Rotary funds help concentration study

25 May 2011

Professor Anthony Harris and Claire Day look over a brain scan.
Professor Anthony Harris and Claire Day look over a brain scan.

The ability of people to concentrate, remember or plan, is the centrepiece of a year-long schizophrenia study being conducted by researchers based at the Westmead Millennium Institute.

The project is being led by the University of Sydney's Professor of Psychiatry Anthony Harris and has been awarded a $70,000 Australian Rotary Health research grant.

Associate Professor Harris says unemployment, the subsequent poverty and welfare dependence are major problems for people with a severe mental illness.

"This study aims to help people with a mental illness get back to work successfully. The use of interventions like supported employment has in the past improved the chances of a person with a severe mental illness obtaining and keeping a job.

"But the majority of people with severe mental illness are still unemployed," says Harris.

An important predictor of poor functioning for people with severe mental illness is the cognitive functioning of the person, which is how well they can concentrate, remember or plan.

"Our study is using computer assisted cognitive remediation. In the past this approach has been shown to improve cognitive function in severe mental illness.

"After testing the effectiveness of the cognitive remediation we will combine it with a supported employment program, then test to see if these combined interventions improve overall employment outcomes," states Professor Harris.

The study will be conducted in a community based setting in cooperation with the Schizophrenia Fellowship of New South Wales, a non-government organisation which operates six supported employment centres in regional and metropolitan New South Wales.

In Sydney, the centres will operate in Burwood, Brookvale and Campbelltown. While the Southern Highlands district will have a centre in Bowral, with an additional supported employment centre also based in Wagga Wagga.

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