Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses, with around 3 million Australians currently experiencing depression and/or anxiety. Despite being so common, current treatments are not always suitable, especially for youth.
The University of Queensland’s Dr Tegan Cruwys is moving away from traditional approaches to treatment, such as antidepressants and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), and will focus specifically on social factors in a new mental health intervention called Groups 4 Health (G4H).
“I am inspired to develop our understanding of social factors in mental health because these are often neglected and poorly understood. This is unfortunate because the data tells us that social connectedness is a powerful antidote to mental illness,” Dr Cruwys said.
“Given that social isolation is the primary risk factor for mental illness, we expect that by targeting social factors, G4H will show similar benefits for mental health to the more established treatment CBT.”
Another benefit to social interventions is that they tend to be cheaper, more accessible, and less stigmatising than traditional treatment approaches.
“While we do have existing treatments, some of these, like antidepressants, are often unsuitable for young people, and others can be difficult to access, especially if you live outside the big cities or if you are from a disadvantaged background.”
For this reason, Dr Cruwys believes it is crucial that researchers develop real alternatives to medication and therapy for young people at risk of mental illness.
“By building communities and facilitating young people to stay connected and engaged, the evidence would suggest we can prevent a lot of serious mental health problems and empower people to live the lives that are meaningful to them.”
It is predicted that this new intervention may also reduce the risk of relapse, due to its focus on long-term skills that reduce social isolation.
With a Mental Health Research Grant from Australian Rotary Health, Dr Cruwys and her team will conduct a randomised controlled trial to compare the effectiveness of G4H and CBT in reducing social isolation.
“This grant scheme, focused on translational applied health research, is particularly important because other research bodies in Australia tend to fund mainly medically-oriented health research or basic laboratory science.”
“The thorough testing of applied social interventions for health depends on the investment of groups like Rotary to make a real difference to the lives of young people.”
The research project is expected to run from 2018-2020.