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The Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use

Excellence, innovation, collaboration
We bring together world-leading researchers, clinicians and community to share skills, synergise data, harness new technologies and trial innovative programs for mental and substance use disorders.

About us

The Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use (the Matilda Centre) delivers research programs to prevent, treat and reduce substance use and mental disorders. While the Matilda Centre covers the whole lifecourse, a key focus of our research is on youth.

The work of the Matilda Centre is built upon the success of the formerly-known NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use (CREMS). Between 2013 – 2018, CREMS collaborated with leading academics at the University of Sydney, the University of New South Wales, the University of Newcastle, Macquarie University, Northwestern University, the Medical University of South Carolina and Black Dog Institute. The Matilda Centre will continue to work on these important collaborations.

Our mission is to improve health and wellbeing through research. We will achieve this by:

  • bringing together globally recognised national and international researchers with a shared commitment to the prevention, early intervention and treatment of mental and substance use disorders
  • building the evidence base for a thriving and empowered youth
  • engaging with decision makers and lived experience to enact real change. 

Our researchers will work closely with the Brain and Mind Centre to address mental and substance use disorders and will provide a key focus on the intersection of these issues.

Our research

With a focus on prevention, treatment and epidemiology, our research streams facilitate knowledge exchange and develop strategic partnerships with the aim of increasing the knowledge base around the effective prevention and treatment of mental and substance use disorders.

 

Research streams

Mental and substance use disorders are the leading causes of disability among young people worldwide. In Australia, one in four young people will meet criteria for a substance use or mental disorder in any year. Our prevention research aims to reduce the occurrence and cost of these disorders, by developing, evaluating and translating innovative approaches to prevention in schools and communities. 

Director: Associate Professor Nicola Newton

One in every two people will develop a mental or substance use disorder during their lifetime. Our treatment research aims to develop and evaluate the efficacy of novel interventions to treat these disorders as well as their combination. Our research thus far has focused on the testing of psychotherapies and pharmacotherapies for individuals who have both a substance use disorder and the most common mental disorders including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depressive and psychotic disorders.

Director: Associate Professor Katherine Mills 

Epidemiological studies of mental and substance use disorders are vital to understanding the size and nature of the health challenges posed by these disorders. Our epidemiology research aims to carry out epidemiological studies, both cross-sectional and longitudinal, examining the prevalence, correlates and natural history of mental and substance use disorders. We also aim to refine and improve the ways in which mental health and substance use disorders are diagnosed and classified.

Director: Associate Professor Tim Slade

Poor communication of research findings is a significant barrier to population-level dissemination. Our technology, Innovation and Translation research aims to address this barrier through a multi-modal translation and community engagement model. With a Focus on leveraging responsive and flexible technology targeted to clinicians, practitioners, policymakers and end users to facilitate knowledge exchange. A strong aim of our research is to increase dialogue between end users, policymakers, researchers, professionals and practitioners.

Director: Professor Frances Kay-Lambkin

Effective prevention, early intervention and treatment can significantly reduce disease burden by halting, delaying, and interrupting the onset and progression of disorders. Despite this, Australia spends only 1.7 percent of total health expenditure on prevention, fewer than two-thirds of all other OECD countries. To change this, we need initiatives which present genuine innovative partnerships across researchers, health providers and philanthropy and across our research programs. Our research development and strategy activities aim to develop these key partnerships and build bridges across our research streams to contribute to a diverse and world-leading mental and substance use research program. 

Director: Associate Professor Cath Chapman

Research projects

The Matilda Centre hosts the PREMISE NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Prevention and Early Intervention in Mental Illness and Substance Use.

The Prevention and Early Intervention in Mental Illness and Substance Use Centre of Research Excellence (PREMISE) was funded in 2018 by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council.

PREMISE is directed by Professor Maree Teesson AC with strategic support from Program Director Associate Professor Cath Chapman. PREMISE is in the process of establishing a Youth Advisory Board (YAB) which will provide input into the governance and research priorities of PREMISE and contribute to specific youth-focused research projects.

The objective of the PREMISE Centre of Research Excellence is to provide a world first synergy of the leading prevention and early intervention research and translation programs in mental health and addiction across five Australian universities (University of New South Wales, the University of Melbourne, the University of Newcastle, Deakin University and the University of Sydney). Our vision is that world-class, innovative, evidence-based prevention and early intervention for substance use and mental disorders is available to all young Australians.

  • Australian longitudinal study of heroin dependence: an 18 – 20 year prospective cohort study of mortality, abstinence, and psychiatric and physical health comorbidity (APP1147212).
  • Healthy, wealthy and wise: the long-term effectiveness of an online universal program to prevent substance use and mental health problems among Australian youth (APP1143555).
  • Internet-based universal prevention for anxiety, depression and substance use in young Australians (APP1047291).
  • Randomised controlled trial of an integrated cognitive-behavioural therapy for the treatment of co-occurring post-traumatic stress disorder and substance use disorder in adolescents (APP1127141).
  • The radar project: identifying early warning signals on the pathways to alcohol use disorder (APP1105521).
  • Pathways to prevention: The effectiveness of universal and selective prevention in altering developmental pathways to alcohol and cannabis-related harms in young adults (APP1124958).

As part of a response to the National Ice Task-force Final Report, The Australian Government Department of Health funded the development of Cracks in the Ice, an online toolkit which aims to improve access to evidence-based information, online resources and support around crystal methamphetamine ‘ice’) for the Australian community.

The toolkit includes fact sheets, guidelines, and printable handouts covering information about the effects of ice, tips for how to stay safe, and information about where, when and how to get help or support. The toolkit was informed by input from over 400 community members from around Australia, and was developed in collaboration with researchers at the at the Centre for Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use (CREMS) at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC), and the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI), Curtin University.

The Health4Life Initiative aims to empower young people to improve their health and wellbeing and reduce the risk of chronic disease later in life. Based on the best available evidence and aligned with the Health and Physical Education curriculum, the Health4Life Initiative represents the first eHealth program to concurrently target six key lifestyle risk factors among secondary school students: physical inactivity, poor diet, risky alcohol use, smoking, recreational screen time and poor sleep. Health4Life is funded by the Paul Ramsay Foundation.

The Australian Government Department of Health funded National Comorbidity Clinical Guidelines, or Guidelines on the management of co-occurring alcohol and other drug and mental conditions in alcohol and other drug treatment settings (2nd edition), aim to provide alcohol and other drug workers with evidence-based information on the management and treatment of co-occurrring mental health conditions in alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment settings. The Guidelines are currently being disseminated to AOD services Australia-wide in the form of hardcopy, online, and via an online training program.

Visit the Comorbidity Guidelines website.

Positive Choices is an online portal that facilitates access to interactive evidence-based drug education resources for school communities (parents, teachers and students). It provides a central access point for evidence-based information and prevention resources about alcohol, cannabis, psychostimulants, crystal methamphetamine and ecstasy, and allows users to search by drug type, by resource type, such as fact sheets, games or videos, and by age appropriateness. The resources can be used to develop lesson plans which align with the Australian Curriculum.

The portal was funded by Australian Government and developed in collaboration with researchers at the by researchers at the Centre for Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use (CREMS) at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC), and the National Drug Research Institute (NDRI).

Visit Positive Choices.  

A number of Matilda Centre research studies are currently seeking participants, current opportunities are listed below.

International study of pro/antisocial behaviour in young adults (HC180527)

This research study aims to explore factors that are associated with prosocial and antisocial behaviour during early adulthood. The online survey will ask you for some general demographic information, sociodemographic information, information about your time at school, your experiences with drugs and alcohol, problems with police, your friendship network and important life events. It will also ask you about adverse childhood experiences, deviant behaviours in the last year and in your lifetime, personality traits, coping strategies you use, and your prosocial attitudes.

We hope to use information we get from this research study to better understand factors associated with the development of prosocial and antisocial behaviour. 

This survey is completely voluntary, de-identified and confidential.

If you would like to participate or know someone who would be interested in participating, please click here.

Treating substance use and traumatic stress among adolescents (HREC 2018/863)

It is estimated that 80% of adolescents have experienced at least one traumatic event and one in seven suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For 50% of these adolescents, the course of their illness is further complicated by a co-occurring substance use disorder (SUD), which frequently develops as a consequence of repeated 'self-medication' of PTSD symptoms. The aim of this randomised controlled trial is to examine the efficacy of two integrated psychological therapies for adolescents who are experiencing traumatic stress and using alcohol or other drugs. Eligible participants will receive up to 16 sessions with a psychologist, delivered at locations convenient for them within the greater Sydney area.

Through this study we hope to better understand how to best treat young people who are using alcohol or other drugs and who have experienced traumatic events.

If you would like to participate or know a young person who may be interested in participating, please click here for more information on how to contact us.

Training

We offer a range of training opportunities for postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers.

We provide a challenging and supportive environment for postgraduate research students. With access to internationally recognised researchers for supervision, candidates will work at the cutting edge of prevention, treatment and epidemiological research on co-occurring mental and substance use disorders.

Our academics provide supervision to Masters of Research and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) students wishing to obtain advanced training in the fields of mental health and substance use.

We aim to provide postdoctoral researchers with world class training in the prevention, treatment and epidemiology of mental and substance use disorders. Our Early-career researcher (ECR) training program provides early career researchers the foundations upon which they may build their own successful programs of research.

Working alongside internationally recognised leaders in the field, members receive training in a variety of methodologies used to undertake research across each stream. In addition, researchers are provided with opportunities to develop their leadership and management skills.

The ECR Training Program is delivered through a series of seminars and workshops tailored specifically to the needs of its members, formal and informal mentoring from senior academics, and participation in our grant development program.

The Matilda Centre is committed to delivering evidence-based training and for professionals undergoing training or working in fields that play a key role in the prevention and treatment of mental and substance use disorders. The training programs will be useful for professionals from a range of backgrounds, from primary school teachers to experienced drug and alcohol workers and clinicians.

Find out more about the comorbidity online training program.

Webinars for Primary Health Network clinicians

Sydney North Health Network (SNHN) has funded researchers at the Matilda Centre to present a series of webinars on alcohol and other drugs (AOD).

The next webinars are on 10 April from 7.30-8.30pm, which will focus on new and emerging psychoactive substances, and 28 May, which will focus on motivational interviewing. Registration links coming soon.

You can find recordings and PDF handouts from our previous webinars below:

Preventure is a school-based intervention aimed at reducing adolescent drug and alcohol use in high-risk teenagers. Students with high-risk personality profiles as identified by a screening questionnaire are invited to participate in two 90-minute group workshops. The Preventure program has proven both feasible and effective when delivered by trained school staff. The Preventure materials were developed in Canada by Professor Patricia Conrod but have been culturally adaptable for implementation in Australia.

In order to implement the Preventure program, it is necessary to attend a 2-3-day training workshop. The next workshops will be held in 2019, with exact dates still to be announced.

The Australian Government Department of Health funded National Comorbidity Clinical Guidelines, or Guidelines on the management of co-occurring alcohol and other drug and mental conditions in alcohol and other drug treatment settings (2nd edition), aim to provide alcohol and other drug workers with evidence-based information on the management and treatment of co-occurring mental conditions in alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment settings. The guidelines are currently being disseminated to AOD services Australia-wide in the form of hardcopy, online, and via an online training program.

Visit the Comorbidity Guidelines website.

Our people

Senior leadership team

Academic leadership team

  • Ms Jasmin Bartlett
  • Ms Julia Boyle
  • Ms Jo Cassar
  • Ms Chloe Conroy
  • Mr Samuel Cornell
  • Ms Katie Dean
  • Ms Jennifer Debenham
  • Ms Hannah Deen
  • Ms Ainsley Furneax-bate
  • Ms Sophia Garlick Bock
  • Ms Lucinda Grummitt
  • Ms Annalise Healy
  • Ms Phoebe Johnson
  • Ms Ivana Kihas
  • Ms Siobhan Lawler
  • Ms Briana Lees
  • Ms Samantha Lynch
  • Ms Erin Madden
  • Mr Marius Mather
  • Ms Bridie Osman
  • Ms Kate Ross
  • Ms Olivia Schollar-Root
  • Ms Anna Smout
  • Ms Scarlett Smout
  • Mr Joel Tibbetts
  • Ms Rachel Visontay
  • Ms Caitlin Ward
  • Mr Peter Clay
  • Ms Jennifer Debenham
  • Ms Clara Fritchley
  • Mr Logan Harvey
  • Ms Ivana Kihas
  • Ms Siobhan Lawler
  • Ms Briana Lees
  • Mr Daniel McFadden
  • Ms Anna Smout

Resources 

Climate Schools program

The Climate Schools programs are universal, web-based programs designed to prevent substance use and related harms among secondary school students. The courses are based on realistic cartoon scenarios about teenagers and are designed to impart education about the use of alcohol and others drugs, the responsible consumption of alcohol, and ways to reduce alcohol and drug-related harms. Through six randomised controlled trials, including 14,169 students from 157 schools, the Climate Schools programs have been found to be effective at reducing alcohol use and binge drinking, reducing alcohol and drug-related harms, reducing cannabis and ecstasy use, and increasing knowledge about alcohol and other drugs.

Pure Rush: online drug education game

Pure Rush is an educational game that offers a unique, interactive and fun approach to drug education. Players learn about the negative effects of illegal drugs as they navigate through suburban, outback and cityscapes to get to a music festival. Avoiding drugs is the key to success as players race for the best time. Secondary school teachers will find this game useful in supporting health and physical education lessons, and feedback from students indicates they love playing it. The game was developed by CREMS researchers and educational game designers 2and2 in consultation with young people and funded by the Australian Government Department of Health.

To read the facts behind Pure Rush and access additional drug education resources, visit the Positive Choices and the Climate Schools Website. Click here to play Pure Rush

Family and friends support program

The Family and Friends Support Program was funded by the Australian Government in 2016 as an enhancement to the Cracks in the Ice Online Toolkit. The FFSP is an online resilience and wellbeing program to support affected friends and family members of people who use methamphetamine.

It aims to provide affected family and friends with a tailored, evidence-informed website that addresses their needs in supporting a loved one using crystal methamphetamine ‘ice’. It also aims to provide health workers with access to training, information, and a referral pathway which assists affected families and friends they encounter as part of their usual practice.

Breaking the Ice

Breaking the Ice is an internet-based brief early intervention for psychostimulant use, including ice (crystal methamphetamine). The intervention draws on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Motivation Enhancement Training. Breaking the Ice was originally developed in collaboration with researchers from the ANU, UNSW Sydney and Curtin University. CREMS, in partnership with NSW Health and Curtin University, re-developed the program in 2016 based on feedback obtained by young people at risk of, or already using, ice.

Healthier drinking choices

Healthier Drinking Choices program has been designed to give people the information they need to make careful choices about the role alcohol plays in their life.

Published in 2014 and funded by the Australian Government Department of Health, this series of fact sheets provides up-to-date, evidence-based information for the public about drugs and their effects. Access the free booklets below: 

Drug education booklets for teachers, parents and students

These booklets for teachers, parents and students contain evidence-based information on illegal drugs. For parents and teachers, the booklets include guidance about how to talk to a young person about illegal drugs, common reasons for drug use, how to help someone who has taken a drug, and information about school-based prevention programs. The student booklet provides accurate information on ways to prevent related drug-related harms and make informed choices.

View and order copies of the free booklet.

Comorbidity booklets

These booklets are written for people who use alcohol, tobacco or other drugs and who have experienced depression, anxiety, psychosis or trauma. Download the free booklets:

Concurrent treatment of PTSD and substance use disorders using prolonged exposure (COPE): a treatment manual 

Based on a study conducted by our researchers at the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, we’ve developed the Concurrent Treatment of PTSD and Substance Use Disorders Using Prolonged Exposure (COPE) Program. This is a cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy program designed for patients who have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a co-occurring alcohol or drug use disorder. The therapist guide (for clinicians) and patient workbook are available to order online.

Comorbid mental disorders and substance use disorders: Epidemiology, prevention and treatment

Published in 2003, this monograph provides a review of the evidence base and the discussion of the complex issues around comorbidity.