Mental Health Research

Bruce Edwards Postdoctoral Fellowship

‘Mind Your Mate: An Online peer intervention to prevent mental health and substance use problems in adolescence’

University of Sydney, NSW
Awarded 2019

“Mental health is currently the top issue of national concern for Australian young people, followed closely by alcohol and other drugs.”

Researcher Profile

Dr Louise Birrell is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at The Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use at Sydney University. Louise has extensive experience designing and testing mental health and substance use prevention programs with adolescents. She is committed to better understanding the impact of common mental health and substance use problems at this critical life stage and passionate about designing innovative prevention strategies to enable young people to overcome mental health problems.

She has authored over 10 peer-reviewed publications, one book chapter and is a named investigator on projects totalling over $9 million dollars in competitive research funding. She regularly presents at national and international conferences in the field of youth mental health.

Project Summary

It has long been known that young people’s peers have a powerful influence on health behaviours, including substance use and mental health. Peers also play an important role in identifying and facilitating access to support for their friends. Yet existing prevention programs are typically delivered to young people by external experts or teachers, rather than utilising the profound influence of peers. There is a critical need to explore novel prevention strategies that acknowledge the important role of peers and utilise innovative online delivery methods that engage young people.

Drawing on her previous research and partnerships with schools, leading researchers and mobile app developers, Louise’s goal is to lead the development and testing of the first online peer intervention (Mind your Mate) to prevent mental health and substance use problems in adolescence.

During the first phase of her research innovative social network analysis will uncover how substance use and mental health behaviours diffuse through peer networks. This knowledge will be used to inform the development of a mobile application (‘app’) for young people to support their peers who may be struggling with mental health or substance use problems. The app will be developed in close consultation with young people themselves.

In the second phase of her fellowship, Louise will test the effectiveness of the newly developed mobile app. If effective, the intervention is easily scalable, low cost and links to the existing high-school syllabus, making it easy to implement and roll out.