Tag Archives: sally bradford

Apps for youth mental health

Last month, the Young & Well Cooperative Research Centre (Young & Well CRC) launched Goalzie, a smartphone app designed to promote positive social networking for young people aged 12–17. The game-based app gets young people to set challenges for each other and help their friends achieve the set challenges. Consequences for not achieving these goals include things like washing the family car.

“Young people are far more likely to seek help if they feel supported by their peers and are in an environment which makes help-seeking normal,” says CEO of Young & Well CRC, Associate Professor Jane Burns.

Mental health disorders haven risen dramatically for this age group in the last 16 years, with a recent report showing a jump from 2.9% to 5.0% in major depressive disorders among 12–17-year-olds.

Tim Sloane, a teacher at a secondary school in Sydney, says that during his six years as a student year advisor dealing with student welfare issues, he encountered cases of anxiety, depression, bullying and low self-esteem.

At his school there are different strategies in place to support student mental health and wellbeing, including mentoring programs.

Sloane says the use of online youth mental health tools would be an effective way to help young people take control of their own mental wellbeing, particularly with issues they may find difficult to discuss.

School authorities are legally required to report any cases involving child or drug abuse to police and government authorities. While this mandatory reporting is intended to protect students, Sloane says it may create a hurdle to getting help, and online technologies can be beneficial to starting a dialogue.

National surveys conducted by Young & Well CRC with Beyond Blue, and by Mission Australia found that young people turn to technologies for answers or solutions, ahead of general practitioners, psychologists, teachers or chaplains, adds Burns.

“We think about online tools as support systems for early intervention for preventing mental illness,” says Burns.

Youth mental health online

The Young & Well CRC has launched a number of online campaigns and apps, addressing issues, from cyberbullying to healthy habits and managing day-to-day stress.

Apps for youth mental health
Goalzie smartphone app developed by Young & Well CRC

Created by PhD candidate Sally Bradford in collaboration with the Young & Well CRC, myAssessment is an app aimed at helping young people assess their own mental health, to reduce obstacles in getting appropriate treatment. Trials of this app at headspace National Youth Mental Health Foundation, showed the app increased the rate of disclosure of sensitive issues to clinicians by up to 10 times.

Together with online youth help service ReachOut, the Young & Well CRC also launched the app NextStep earlier last month, which aims to connect young people with the right mental health support for their situation.

“We see technologies as part of a holistic support system of care, and we think that professions have been far too slow in recognising that this is an incredibly important resource and tool available to them,” says Burns.

Sue Min Liu

Connecting graduates with businesses

Gaining industry experience and seeing how their research can have practical applications is important to early career researchers. Universities and industry are now working together to help provide graduates with the opportunity to work on commercial solutions for real-life problems.

Sally Bradford won the 2015 Showcasing Early Career Researchers competition, and is a PhD candidate in clinical psychology at the University of Canberra. She developed an electronic mental health assessment app allowing physicians to diagnose and support their patients’ previously undisclosed issues. Bradford’s research is part of a larger collaborative project with the Young and Well CRC.

Perth-based cancer immunotherapy research group Selvax Pty Ltd has entered a commercial partnership with Curtin University. They signed a two-year contract to develop anti-cancer immunotherapy treatments in November 2015, after CEO Tony Fitzgerald saw value in Curtin Senior Research Fellow Dr Delia Nelson’s ten years of research into immunological agents.

“We want access to innovative research to make practical use of what researchers are discovering,” says Fitzgerald.

These industry partnerships aren’t new. “It’s a well-trodden path in the USA,” says Fitzgerald.

“But it’s not as common in Australia – we’re great at innovating, but not great at commercialising our work.”

Perth-based energy company Bombora Wave Power needed to know what sensors would work underwater with its unique wave energy converter (WEC), so they partnered with Edith Cowan University (ECU) through the university’s Industry and PhD Research Engagement Program, which matches Western Australian PhD candidates with industry. ECU graduate Gary Allwood researched ways of using optical fibre sensors to measure load and stress on the WEC system’s membrane.

“The partnership allowed me to do things that haven’t been done before, like use optical fibres as sensors instead of electrical sensors,” says Allwood, who will work with Bombora Wave Power to test the sensors.

There are other, similar Australian programs. CRCs offer a number of scholarships across 14 different fields of research, giving PhD students a chance to gain industry experience.

Monash University started its Graduate Research Interdisciplinary Programs (GRIPs) in early 2015, allowing PhD students to solve real-world problems through collaborative research.

The Chemicals and Plastics GRIP has 20 industry partners offering training and funding, including Dulux and 3M. One student is treating coffee grounds to create a fertiliser to improve the soil quality of agricultural land.

“This is an exciting and innovative model for postgraduate education that encourages interdisciplinary and industry-engaged practice,” says Monash University’s Vice-Provost for Graduate Education, Professor Zlatko Skrbis.

– Marisa Wikramanayake