The science of wellbeing - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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The science of wellbeing

by Louise Pemble

Living through COVID-19 has been like a whole world experiment to see how humans might fare when deprived of social connection.

USC’s Sunshine Coast Mind and Neuroscience–Thompson Institute (Thompson Institute) has stepped in to fill the breach now that we know the answer to that question — not very well, with a 30 percent jump in GP visits for mental health.

And Australia is not alone — a recent report by the World Health Organisation found that the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted or halted mental health services in 93 percent of countries worldwide while the demand for mental health is increasing. The WHO survey of 130 countries provides the first global data showing that over 60 percent of countries reported disruptions to mental health services for vulnerable people, including children and adolescents (72 percent) and older adults (70 percent) and 67 percent of countries saw disruptions to counselling and psychotherapies.

In Australia, AMA Queensland council member Dr Maria Boulton recently told the ABC that general practitioners were seeing a 30 percent increase in patients presenting with mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders and stress.

To counter this “tsunami” of mental health need, the Thompson Institute launched a new program to boost wellbeing among Queenslanders called EMERALD (short for emerging anxiety, loneliness and depression).

With funding from the Queensland Government, EMERALD is free for people experiencing early signs that their mental wellbeing needs proactive attention.

Participants work with a health coach for eight weeks to set goals to improve mental health. They can also choose to see a dietitian, psychologist or exercise physiologist, depending on their goals. These are backed up with self-guided online teaching modules on sleep and social connectedness, among others.

Mental Health Nurse Research Officer Monique Jones said the first cohort had recently “graduated” from the EMERALD program — with marked improvements in their mental health and outlook on life.

“We are seeing incredible results from those who have completed the program, with much lower scores of self-rated depression and anxiety, and a stunning 40 percent increase in wellbeing from participants,” Monique said.

“Feedback from participants included that they are coping better with stressors, have improved overall mood, are engaging in self-care activities and feel less overwhelmed.”

EMERALD is open now to Queenslanders. Visit usc.edu.au/emerald to find out more and to register.

LivingWorks Start

Another new Thompson Institute support service for people during the pandemic is free online suicide alertness training for anyone on the Sunshine Coast. As of late October, 235 people had completed the interactive training, called LivingWorks Start, via The Alliance for Suicide Prevention — Sunshine Coast, which is led by USC.

LivingWorks Start teaches how to recognise the signs that a person is having thoughts of suicide and how to connect them to intervention services.

The recent Australian Bureau of Statistics report Causes of Death Australia 2019 shows there is great need for this training. The report found that the rate of male suicide has increased by more than 2 percent over the past 10 years and is now the tenth leading cause of death for males with the youngest median age for any death in Australia at 43.9 years of age.

To register for LivingWorks Start training, visit thealliance.org.au/training/start/

The Thompson Institute's Mental Health Nurse Research Officer Monique Jones speaking about the EMERALD program

The Thompson Institute's Mental Health Nurse Research Officer Monique Jones speaking about the EMERALD program.

LABS study image
World-first study is now recruiting

The Thompson Institute’s Longitudinal Adolescent Brain Study (LABS) is now recruiting. The only study of its kind in the world, LABS recruits adolescents aged 12 to 15 years and follows them through high school. The aim is to track changes in the brain to gain a deeper understanding of the factors that impact mental health in teenagers.

Through brain imaging, the Thompson Institute's researchers are getting new insights into factors that influence resilience, wellbeing, thinking skills, connectedness and mental disorders in teenagers. Already, they have found that sleep plays a big part in mental wellness. Other findings will be shared with the community soon, with several papers under peer review prior to publication. The research findings will inform future youth mental health. One day, the data may even be able to help identify young people at risk of developing mental disorders — giving time to intervene early for better lifelong outcomes.

Register your interest to participate online at usc.edu.au/labs or phone +61 7 5456 3892.