'10 of the Best': Newcastle health and medical research in NHMRC showcase

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has launched the 12th edition of 10 of the Best, showcasing significant projects that support the improvement of human health.

Professor Frances Kay-Lambkin

The 2021 edition highlights research projects across a broad range of topics, including cancer immunology, youth mental health, Indigenous research workforce building, neurosurgical devices, tuberculosis, coronary disease, respiratory disease rehabilitation, depression and the economic evaluation of cancer treatment.

Achieving a place in the coveted top 10, Professor Kay-Lambkin and her international team at the University’s Priority Research Centre for Brain and Mental Health, are featured for their work on the development and translation of evidence-based treatments for comorbid mental disorders for young Australians.

Using digital innovations to address depression and binge drinking in young Australians

Professor Kay-Lambkin’s team has led six large randomised controlled clinical trials through face-to-face, phone-based and computerised psychological treatments for mental health and alcohol/substance use problems. Findings were then translated into clinical practice. She engaged with 426 young people, aged between 16 and 25, who experienced depression and high levels of alcohol consumption.

“The clinical trial provided young people instant access to online intervention packages. The courses taught them to use cognitive behaviour therapy and motivation enhancement to self-manage thoughts, feelings and behaviours related to depression and 
alcohol consumption,” Professor Kay-Lambkin said.

“It was humbling to watch and demonstrated to us how empowering this technology and approach can be.”

“Technology and digital health care are critical tools in addressing shortfalls in mental health service availability, particularly with our younger generation.”

This trial provided the first evidence of the impact of digital tools for both alcohol use disorders and depression. This was the first time young people were engaged in an online social network to talk specifically about alcohol use and depression.

“My team needed to establish clear clinical protocols for supporting safe discussions between young people online, without seeming like we were controlling the conversation.”

“This program has been so important during the COVID-19 pandemic, even though the study has now finished, keeping people connected and supported while we have not been able to do so in traditional ways.”

Whilst the mobile app was moderated by psychologists, young people embraced the technology and the ability to virtually connect this way quickly and completely.

“Some of the best advice we saw in the network came from young people themselves, helping each other through really difficult and high-risk times.”

By the end of the trial, participants reported they had reduced both their frequency of binge drinking by 18 per cent and their depressive symptoms by 35 per cent, indicating that helping young people cope with multiple concerns at once is an effective approach.

Next steps

The model will expand to new groups who do not usually engage with mental health care. It will be used in the first trial of social networking and online psychological support for Australians aged 60 years and over, who are experiencing untreated depression and alcohol use problems.

10 of the best

The projects featured in 10 of the Best, showcase significant projects that support the improvement of human health and are representative of hundreds of successful high-quality projects funded each year by NHMRC.

The complete publication is available on NHMRC's website.

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