Mental health issues affect one in every five Australians and accounted for 7.7% of total healthcare expenditure in Australia in 2015–2016.
The CRC for Mental Health works to reduce the burden of mental health by studying biomarkers: biological indicators that aid preventative treatment and early diagnosis of diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
Postgraduate researchers at the CRC have developed a program to improve mental health issues in their fellow PhD students, with a focus on recognition and preventative action.
The Write Smarter: Feel Better program was informed by studies that suggest 50% of PhD students experience psychological distress during candidature. Few are likely to seek help.
“When we looked at the research, it was concerning that one in three [PhD students] will develop a mental health disorder during their candidature,” says PhD student and registered psychologist Karra Harrington, a co-developer of the program.
The program focuses on the importance of social connection. Monthly online meetings connect students from five different universities around Australia.
“Communication about mental health is paramount for overcoming stigma and supporting people to flourish,” says Harrington. Her background as a practising psychologist provided the drive to investigate practical processes for combatting the ‘PhD blues’.
Sabine Bird is another PhD student working with the CRC for Mental Health. “Feeling ‘stuck’ while writing is an experience every PhD student goes through,” she says. “If not dealt with, it easily leads to ongoing procrastination, a lack of progress and even a sense of failure.”
In working with the CRC, students recognise the importance of communication in maintaining good mental health, but also to convey their research to foster real-world outcomes.
Melanie Carew, Head of Education at the CRC, says they’ve been pleased with the mutually beneficial outcomes of the PhD program for the CRC and the participants.
“Our education program focuses on developing our students’ ability to think broadly about their research and the skills they have developed during their PhDs, then use them in different settings,” she says. “Write Smarter: Feel Better is a fantastic example of how our students can apply their scientific training and work collaboratively to solve problems.”
Recently, the program has been adopted by The University of Melbourne. It will be offered to all higher degree research students. Harrington attributes this success to their platform of communication with the CRC. “Communication of our research helped to highlight the value and benefits of Write Smarter: Feel Better for PhD students, their loved ones, PhD supervisors and universities or other research organisations such as CRCs.”