The University of Newcastle, Australia

NHMRC funding set to address inequity faced by people with mental health conditions

Friday, 3 July 2020

Building the capacity of community mental health services to provide preventive care to people with a mental health condition will be the focus of a three-year project led by researchers at the University of Newcastle.

Portrait of Professor Jenny Bowman
Professor Jenny Bowman

Led by Professor Jenny Bowman from the University’s School of Psychology, the research team brings together research expertise from across the University of Newcastle, Hunter Medical Research Institute, the University of Melbourne and Flinders University. 

The team has been awarded a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) grant of more than $1.3 million. The project will involve collaboration with mental health services in three NSW Local Health Districts: Central Coast, Hunter New England and Mid North Coast.

People with a mental health condition die between 10 to 15 years earlier than the general Australian population, largely Professor Bowman said, due to potentially preventable chronic disease and a higher prevalence of modifiable risk factors, including poor nutrition and inadequate physical activity.

“This really is an issue of inequity. In addition to managing a mental health condition, people are also experiencing an extra burden from preventable physical chronic diseases,” said Professor Bowman.

“By developing and testing a new model of care in collaboration with mental health services and clinicians, we’re hoping to make a difference to this now widely recognised problem, and support people with a mental health condition to make positive changes to their nutrition and physical activity risk behaviours.”

Professor Bowman said existing clinician and systems barriers, such as inadequate time, low clinician confidence and a perceived lack of referral options, impede the routine provision of preventative care in mental health consultations.

The research team will aim to overcome these barriers by working with mental health providers to co-design and test a new model of care; integrating a ‘dedicated provider’ within mental health services and offering all clients a consultation focused on preventive care for nutrition and physical activity risks.

The integrated practitioner will be a specialist in preventative care and will be responsible for the initial screening of clients and will assist in increasing the capacity of other mental health clinicians to embed this practice into their routine care.

“The primary goal of this research is to facilitate the community mental health services to progress with a feasible way forward that will empower their clients to make positive changes to their lifestyle and overall health outcomes,” said Professor Bowman.

“This is so important because we can see the huge gap when it comes to life expectancy for people with mental health conditions and yet so much of it can be prevented.

“Hopefully by carrying out this research we’ll be able to see a way forward to reduce the chronic disease burden and the physical health inequity experienced by this population group.”

The University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research & Innovation), Professor Janet Nelson, said Professor Bowman’s project was an outstanding example of the University’s commitment to improving the health and wellbeing of people in the local region and around the world.

“The successful funding of this project is testament to Professor Bowman’s research and reputation as a leader in the mental health space, and it highlights the University’s focus on delivering better health outcomes for our communities.”

HMRI Director Professor Tom Walley highlighted the importance of collaboration to deliver better health outcomes.

“Professor Bowman has demonstrated success in delivering targeted strategies to support people with mental health issues, and this funding will enable her to work with consumers and clinicians to improve health outcomes for people with a mental health condition,” said Professor Walley.

Dr Marcia Fogarty, Executive Director of Hunter New England Mental Health Services, who is also an investigator on the project, said that people will mental illness often struggle to maintain a healthy diet and a healthy weight and physical fitness.

“I am very pleased our mental health clinicians are able to collaborate with psychology researchers to develop tools to improve nutrition and physical activity for our clients in the community mental health teams,” said Dr Fogarty.


The Physical Health in Mental Illness (PHiMI) Research Team are seeking expressions of interest from candidates interested in pursuing a PhD program.

The PhD will be undertaken with PHiMI research team based at the University of Newcastle, led by Prof Jenny Bowman.

Applications close 1 August 2020.

For further information contact: Joanna Latter (Research Assistant): joanna.latter@newcastle.edu.au; 4921 7768


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