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Unis join forces to tackle Australia’s regional mental health crisis

3 min read
31 Oct 2022
Three people walking.
University of Southern Queensland’s Professor Sonja March (middle), Professor Tracy Kolbe-Alexander and Dr Govind Krishnamoorthy have joined the Manna Institute.

The University of Southern Queensland (UniSQ) plays a pivotal role in transforming mental health and wellbeing efforts across rural, regional and remote communities. The launch of an Australian-first innovative virtual research and training institute is set to give its researchers more opportunities to tackle these growing issues.

Today (October 31), UniSQ will join stakeholders and industry partners in Armidale, New South Wales, to launch the Manna Institute as a founding member.

The Institute brings together leading mental health researchers from seven Regional Universities Network (RUN) universities, including UniSQ, Charles Sturt University, Central Queensland University, Federation University, Southern Cross University, University of Sunshine Coast and lead institution, the University of New England.

The unprecedented collaboration will foster relevant research, professional workforces, and the translation of research findings into practical, place-based programs tailored to the needs of regional Australians who experience significantly poorer mental health than their metropolitan counterparts.

The Institute was funded by a $3.66 million Commonwealth grant under the new Regional Research Collaboration fund. It provides a unique opportunity for UniSQ to collaborate across the RUN universities and its industry and community partners, including Everymind, Lifeline Direct and the ANU Centre for Mental Health Research.

Professor Sonja March, Director of UniSQ’s Centre for Health Research, was named one of the chief investigators of the Institute.

UniSQ researchers Professor Tracy Kolbe-Alexander and Dr Govind Krishnamoorthy were also selected to join the Institute, participate in mentoring and leadership programs and embark on novel projects to boost the wellbeing of people in rural, regional and remote Australia.

Professor March has spent her career exploring solutions to improve access to evidence-based psychological treatments for children, adolescents and families, especially in regional areas.

For her, the Institute is a chance to raise further awareness of the mental health needs of children and adolescents in regional Australia and advocate for the dissemination of accessible services Australia-wide.

“By getting in early, we can help children to live healthy lives, develop adaptive coping skills and interrupt mental health problems before they turn into a lifelong trajectory of illness,” Professor March said.

“This is critical for all of our children, and we need to ensure regional families can access appropriate supports”.

The Manna Institute aims to build research capacity within the regions by creating educational pathways that will ensure future generations of mental health researchers are capable of developing targeted solutions.

Tertiary learning opportunities for community members will also expand the pipeline of skilled practitioners.

Find out more information about the Manna Institute.

UNISQ RESEARCHERS

Professor Sonja March (Chief Investigator):

“I am dedicated to ensuring equal access to quality mental health services. All children deserve the opportunity to live healthy lives and access the support they want to receive when they need it. “I’m looking forward to building the capacity of Australian mental health researchers and helping to find new ways of improving mental health for regional Australians. Together, we can do more.”

Professor Tracy Kolbe-Alexander (Mid-Career Researcher):

“My research focuses on the role of physical activity (and other health-seeking behaviours) on health and wellbeing, especially in regional areas. Consumer engagement, whereby community members and stakeholders co-lead the design and delivery of community-wide strategies, is central to my research. The Manna Institute enables me to work with leading academics in the field and receive the training and support needed so that we can play a role in improving health and wellbeing in regional Australians.”

Dr Govind Krishnamoorthy (Early Career Researcher):

“As a clinician working with children, youth and families with severe and complex mental health concerns, I am passionate about improving the quality of care for underserved families belonging to priority populations. My research focuses on evaluating school-based mental health interventions and services, particularly the feasible and effective implementation of interventions in complex service settings. I’m looking forward to developing working relationships with academics conducting research in mental health, building my research skills through opportunities for mentoring and training the Institute provides.”