A collaborative project led by the University of New England (UNE) will significantly boost mental health research in regional Australia.
UNE will establish the Regional Australia Mental Health Research and Training Institute (RAMHeaRT) in Armidale to better translate its mental health research to help regional communities.
The institute has been funded by a $3.66 million Commonwealth grant under the new Regional Research Collaboration fund.
UNE Professor of Social Work Myfanwy Maple said the program will provide opportunities to the best minds in mental health and keep vital investment in the regions.
"Ultimately the expected outcome of this powerful regional university collaboration is increased research capacity focused on solutions to the complex socio-environmental mental health challenges for rural, regional and remote Australia," Professor Maple said.
"Regional Australians experience higher levels of disadvantage and poorer mental health than their metro counterparts due to a variety of factors such as lower income, poor access to healthcare and other vital services."
Regional University Network (RUN) universities are all embedded within their regional, rural and remote communities, Ms Maple said, and share a common goal of addressing the complex mental health challenges for regional Australia.
Regional University Partners are Charles Sturt University, Central Queensland University, Federation University, Southern Cross University, University of Southern Queensland, University of Sunshine Coast.
UNE Vice Chancellor and CEO, Professor Brigid Heywood said that the consortium is demonstrating the value of regional universities in solving regional problems.
"Each RUN partner in this new Institute model brings their own unique expertise and experience to the table," Professor Heywood said.
"Regional Universities cover a significant geographic footprint and are best placed to develop community driven solutions to very complex social problems."
The project builds on the existing success of RUN and partners who share the collective vision for a healthy and prosperous regional Australia, Professor Heywood said, by focusing on the key challenge of mental health.
"Regional Australia has faced significant challenges over the past three years with drought, bushfires and now the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic," she said.
"There is a lot of vulnerability but also a lot of resilience."
Deputy Prime Minister and Member for New England, Barnaby Joyce said the federal funding will provide critical research in the region at a time when mental health is a significant issue.
"Our funding will support UNE, working with local industry partners, to expand its mental health research to literally save lives."
"By conducting this vital research here in New England, we ensure that the new findings and skills developed by researchers will directly benefit our community," Minister Joyce said.
"The project will also include important engagement with the local Indigenous community to provide significant health benefits ."
Project partners are the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social and Emotional Well-being, Mental Health, and Suicide Leadership Body, Everymind, Lifeline Direct; the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health and the ANU Centre for Mental Health Research.
Robert Sams, Executive Director of Lifeline Direct, said he welcomes working with the RUN universities and partners to build an evidence base to Lifeline Direct's work in communities.
"This partnership will help us to continue to build vital local and community led services. I look forward to working with the RUN university partners to build strong evidence around our work and service delivery as we progress," Mr Sams said.
"We acknowledge that service delivery is necessarily different in regional Australia compared with metro centres, so a different thought process and regional expertise is required to solve regional problems.
"Such a large regional industry and university partnership keeps working in regional mental health really relevant, and some of our team will work with RUN university partners in delivering some of their own research."
Minister for Education and Youth, Alan Tudge said the project is one of six that will share in nearly $20 million through the first round of the Government's Regional Research Collaboration (RRC) Program.
"We want our world-class research to be at the forefront of our economic and social success and we want regional universities to be a big part of that," Minister Tudge said.
"This project will translate excellent research into real-world health benefits for the community by improving mental health, reducing deaths by suicide, and easing the burden on the healthcare system.
"Students will also have the opportunity to collaborate with highly regarded health industry partners, such as suicide prevention service Lifeline."
Minister for Regionalisation, Regional Communications and Regional Education, Senator Bridget McKenzie said regional Australia is primed to lead our economic recovery post COVID.
"Australia's regional and remote centres of excellence are already generating ground-breaking solutions to real world problems. Its essential they're supported to deepen these communities of expertise," Minister McKenzie said.
"Enhancing UNE's research capabilities will draw more students, researchers and businesses to the area. Our investment will also create more opportunities for students to pursue research projects and gain a post-graduate qualification in regional NSW.
"This program is another way the Government is supporting regions to realise their full potential and create more resilient local economies and communities."
The Coalition Government has invested a total of $48.8 million over four years in the RRC Program to boost research capacity in regional Australia. Round two is expected to open in 2022.
The RRC Program is being implemented in response to the National Regional, Rural and Remote Tertiary Education Strategy and is part of the Government's mission to strengthen the regional and remote tertiary education sector.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content: