Improving the mental health care experience

New research aims to put lived experience at the heart of our mental health systems.

Professor Lisa Brophy is a discipline lead in Social Work and Social Policy at La Trobe University, and a Chief Investigator on the ALIVE project. The project was recently awarded a $10 million Australian Government grant and brings together individuals, universities, primary and community care organisations to improve people’s experience of mental healthcare, and address life expectancy gaps in key populations.

“ALIVE sets up opportunities to have research that’s led by people with lived experience,” explains Professor Brophy. “For too long in mental health we’ve had really innovative models of care that have been co-designed and co-produced, sitting too far out on the margins.”

“We need to be doing more work to generate evidence around those models of care, and they have to include the consumer voice. That’s what ALIVE will do.”

Professor Brophy’s role with ALIVE focuses on ensuring research and policies are communicated to key audience members - particularly people with lived experience - so they can contribute to the project’s development.

“It’s going to be a real opportunity to think about how we translate our activities so that they are taken up and people value the potential for those projects and their findings.”

“The first stage of this work has been setting up the governance structure for ALIVE, and already what we’re doing is having lived-experience co-chairs across all of those governance structures. It’s important to have lived experience embedded in all aspects of ALIVE.”

Dr Catherine Brasier, a consumer researcher and post-doctoral research fellow works with Professor Brophy at La Trobe and has taken up one of these co-chair roles. The ALIVE project has also enabled Professor Brophy’s PhD students to participate in activities that will help them be research leaders of the future.

In light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, research into mental health and wellbeing is particularly well-timed.

“One of the great opportunities we’ve had with COVID-19 is for people to have an increased interest in mental health. It’s also highlighted issues around loneliness, and the impact that loneliness can have on people. And the importance of social connection.”

The project also presents an invaluable opportunity to showcase how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge of mental health and wellbeing, and how it can be effectively built into the national health care system.

‘There’s much we can learn from First Nations communities about mental health and wellbeing that can inform models of care.”

As Professor Brophy notes, the next step in the project is to foster more opportunities for projects led by lived experience.

“There’s increased interest in Australia in the role of peer support and the lived experience workforce, and we need researchers who can actually support the growth and development of that workforce. I’m really excited to be involved in that.”

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