Regions in focus for $3.66m mental health initiative

Headshots composite of a woman and two menFrom left: Dr Ratika Kumar, Associate Professor Christian Swann, Dr Eric Brymer

Southern Cross University is part of a ground-breaking virtual research and training institute committed to better mental health in rural, regional and remote communities.

Funded by a $3.66 million Commonwealth grant, Manna Institute launched recently and brings together researchers from seven universities in the Regional Universities Network (RUN). The aim is to foster relevant research, professional workforces and the translation of findings into practical, place-based programs.

Southern Cross University’s Faculty of Health contingent is led by Coffs Harbour-based Associate Professor Christian Swann, who is also Deputy Director of the Institute. He is joined by Gold Coast-based mid-career researcher Dr Eric Brymer, and early career researcher Dr Ratika Kumar, from Coffs Harbour.

Associate Professor Swann says that with a third of Australians living in regional, rural and remote areas – and experiencing significantly poorer mental health outcomes than their metropolitan counterparts – Manna Institute can nurture important regional partnerships and enhance the capacity of mental health researchers in the communities they serve.

“We have the opportunity to improve the mental health of our communities and make them better places to live,” he says. “One of the reasons why Manna Institute is so important is that we can attract more mental health researchers to the regions to develop programs and projects that best serve and flow meaningfully into communities.”

Dr Brymer is leading a research collaborative investigating the impact of changing environmental conditions on mental health.

“We are gathering data globally, seeking to understand mental health impacts and to support the needs of affected regional communities,” he says.

“Manna Institute will open the door for more people to tell their stories, enabling researchers to better communicate the link between nature and mental health and to develop targeted solutions.”

Dr Ratika Kumar’s research focuses on smoking cessation, specifically implementing interventions to help reduce smoking prevalence in pregnant Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander women. Dr Kumar has previously researched smoking cessation and tobacco harm reduction methods targeted at smokers with severe mental illness.

“Smoking is considered a substance abuse disorder. Many smokers continue to smoke for mental health reasons, such as to relieve stress and anxiety,” she says. “Training health provider workforces in effective, evidence-based and culturally appropriate smoking cessation interventions is vital.”

Other RUN members involved with Manna Institute are Charles Sturt University, Central Queensland University, Federation University, University of Southern Queensland, University of Sunshine Coast and University of New England.

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