Vital mental health research for rural and regional Australian communities

31 October 2022

An innovative virtual research and training institute – the first of its kind in Australia – has been launched to improve the mental health and wellbeing of rural' regional and remote communities.

The Manna Institute unites leading mental health researchers from seven universities in the Regional Universities Network (RUN) – Charles Sturt University' CQUniversity Australia' Federation University' Southern Cross University' the University of Southern Queensland' the University of Sunshine Coast and lead institution the University of New England. This unprecedented collaborative effort will foster relevant research' professional workforces' and the translation of research findings into practical' place-based programs.

Leading national mental health researchers across a vast geographical footprint are already partnering with industry and community partners (including Everymind' Lifeline Direct and the ANU Centre for Mental Health Research) to tailor solutions specifically to their regions. It represents a serious' long-term commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of the one-third of Australians experiencing much poorer mental health than their metropolitan counterparts.

Funded by a $3.66 million Commonwealth grant under the new Regional Research Collaboration program' Manna Institute will mobilise individuals embedded within vulnerable communities.

Manna Institute Director' Professor Myfanwy Maple from the University of New England' said: "The institute engages experts' those with lived experience of mental ill-health' First Nations peoples and service providers to co-design research with direct applications.

"It is an innovative approach designed to find evidence-based solutions to support vulnerable populations earlier and more effectively.

"This is vital to addressing the complex and multi-faceted causes of mental ill-health in rural and regional Australia' including reduced financial security' social isolation' vulnerability to natural disasters' and limited access to healthcare and other vital services."

By building research capacity within the regions' Manna Institute seeks to create the educational pathways that will ensure future generations of mental health researchers capable of developing targeted solutions. Tertiary learning opportunities for community members will also expand the pipeline of skilled practitioners.

CQUniversity's Chief Investigator for the Manna Institute' Professor Chris Doran said the Manna Institute has the potential to establish a legacy of delivering solutions to improve people's lives through preventative measures and improved support mechanisms that are specific to the needs and issues facing regional and remote Australians.

"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 legacy will be how its research agenda strengthens the knowledge base around mental health that will ultimately lead to more effective solutions. Along with this' senior researchers will be able to play an important role in developing a new generation of researchers and mental health experts'" Professor Doran said.

"My interactions with Everymind and Lifeline so far stand out to me' with Everymind aiming to change lives through world-leading prevention programs and research' and Lifeline' an organisation that exists so that no Australian has to face their darkest moments alone.

"Working with these partners underlines the importance of the institute's work and helps to provide the grassroots' community connections that we need to make a real difference."

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.

"Manna Institute represents a wonderful learning opportunity for Lifeline Direct' where we can work with the best of the best. There's this nice blend of academia' research and service delivery' which recognises the diversity of rural and remote communities."

Everymind Director Dr Jaelea Skehan' OAM' believes Manna Institute promises to transform mental health and suicide prevention efforts across the country in real time.

"There is no doubt that we need to bring together the best of community knowledge' lived experience knowledge and research to create the tools for people to make a difference in their own lives'" Dr Skehan said.

"It's critical to be delivering trusted programs that meet people where they are' where they live' where they work' where they parent' and where they connect with a whole range of services. Manna Institute does that."

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