Bundaberg researcher and mum determined to drive better mental health for regional families

05 December 2022

She's seen first-hand the impacts of the mental health crisis on her community' and CQUniversity Bundaberg researcher Dr Cassy Dittman is determined to drive solutions for unique local challenges.

The psychology academic and mum is part of a new initiative to improve the mental health and wellbeing of rural' regional and remote Australian communities' and she says the work should start with parents.

The Manna Institute unites leading mental health from seven regional universities' and has $3.66 million in Commonwealth funding to foster research' workforces' and practical' place-based programs.

This year the ABS reported that more than two in five Australians aged 16–85 have experienced a mental disorder at some time in their life' with one in five facing mental health issues in the past 12 months.

And outside capital cities' mental health services and support can be challenging to access.

"Much of my research has focused on the development and evaluation of evidence-based parenting programs and their capacity to impact and improve mental health and wellbeing in children and parents'" Dr Dittman explained.

"However' despite an incredibly strong evidence base for the benefits of parenting programs' there continues to be geographical barriers when it comes to accessibility for families in regional and remote Australia.

"With the Manna Institute' I am committed to working towards research and programs that will help parents in supporting the healthy development of their children' to embed healthy behaviours and improve resilience in children and adolescents.

"That resilience will help them manage and recognise changes in their mental health and seek support when they need it.

"Providing parents and children with the resources and tools they need has the potential to improve mental health outcomes and improve wellbeing throughout the whole lifespan."

Dr Dittman is Head of Course for CQUniversity's undergraduate Psychology course' and her research focuses on the impact of parenting and parent-child relationships on child and adolescent development and wellbeing.

She has recently helped drive a research partnership with the National Rugby League to develop a program for parents of junior rugby league players to promote positive parental behaviour in the sporting context.

Operating as an innovative virtual research and training initiative' the first of its kind in Australia' the Manna Institute also includes Regional Universities Network (RUN) members Charles Sturt University' Federation University' Southern Cross University' the University of Southern Queensland' the University of Sunshine Coast and lead institution the University of New England.

CQUniversity's Chief Investigator for the Manna Institute' Professor Chris Doran said the Manna Institute has the potential legacy of transforming regional people's lives.

"Australia is experiencing a mental health crisis and regional Australians are most at risk'" he said. "The obvious strength of this institute is its people and their commitment to improving mental health outcomes for Australians living in rural and remote regions.

"The institute's research agenda will strengthen the knowledge base around mental health' and ultimately lead to more effective solutions'" he said.

"Senior researchers will be able to play an important role in developing a new generation of researchers and mental health experts."

Lifeline Direct CEO Robert Sams believes Manna Institute is a timely addition to the mental healthcare landscape.

"We urgently need evidence-based services and to work more closely together for the benefit of regional and rural areas' where we know there is significant need'" he said.

For more information visit mannainstitute.au.