RSPH secures $2.6m in NHMRC funding with community-driven health research

Alison Calear
6 September 2019

Associate Professors Alison Calear and Ray Lovett were successful in this highly competitive grant round. While one project focuses on youth suicide, and the other validating measures of Indigenous health, they both have community-driven research at their heart.

Dr Calear was awarded $1.2 million for the project Connecting kids: Harnessing interpersonal connectedness to reduce suicide risk in youth. This program of work spans a number of individual projects and focuses on building connections and a sense of belonging – factors which we know are protective against youth suicide.

“We are tackling youth mental health and suicide by promoting interpersonal connections and support between children, parents, and older adults,” says Dr Calear.

Parents are key to supporting youth mental health. Dr Calear and her team will firstly work with parents to provide them with the knowledge and tools they need to identify mental health problems when they arise, help build their child’s resilience over time, and identify help-seeking options and referral pathways in times of distress.

Dr Calear is also keen to point out the role our elderly community members may also be able to play in aiding youth mental health.

“We will also be developing and evaluating a structured intergenerational program that will encourage 9-11 year olds to connect with older community members. Here not only do the children gain a trusted adult confidant, but the program also addresses loneliness in old age. This is a really great aspect of the program as I think, as a society, we have forgotten the importance of intergenerational interactions on mental health for everyone.”

Dr Lovett and his team are also working extensively with community-driven data with their project: Strong health through strong measures: Validating new measures of Indigenous health, culture and wellbeing (awarded $1.4 million). A project combining community engagement and statistics at its core, the vision is to check new socio-metrics developed as part of the Mayi Kuwayu National Study of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing work in this population.

“The Mayi Kuwayu project is a ground breaking study that asks Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders about how culture is linked with wellbeing. This has never been done before, and it’s a huge issue because we assume the common general community socio-metrics of health and wellbeing work for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Our work to-date shows this isn’t the case, it is only part of the story”, says Dr Lovett.

“This grant allows us to further build on our research by evaluating the socio-metrics we developed in Mayi Kuwayu. We will continue to work with the Indigenous community and over 8,000 Indigenous people that have enrolled in Mayi Kuwayu to-date, and use our statistical tools to ensure the measures work. We want to show our stakeholders that study results are robust, and ultimately make these socio-metrics available so they can be used in future studies – while protecting Indigenous Intellectual Property.”

We will also investigate how to create a full population profile based on the new socio-metrics from the Mayi Kuwayu study population, and allow researchers to use the data more broadly, for example when providing input for policy development.

Congratulations to Dr Calear, Dr Lovett and their teams on their grant success that will improve the health and wellbeing of many Australians.