Vital mental health research for rural and regional Australian communities

31 OCTOBER 2022

Vital mental health research for rural and regional Australian communities

The Manna Institute seeks to create the educational pathways that will ensure future generations of mental health researchers are capable of developing targeted solutions.

An innovative virtual research and training institute – the first of its kind in Australia – is being launched to improve the mental health and wellbeing of rural, regional and remote communities.

The Manna Institute unites leading mental health researchers from seven universities in the Regional Universities Network (RUN) – Charles Sturt University, Central Queensland University, Federation University, Southern Cross University, the University of Southern Queensland, the University of Sunshine Coast and lead institution the University of New England.

This unprecedented collaborative effort will foster relevant research, professional workforces, and the translation of research findings into practical, place-based programs.

Leading national mental health researchers across a vast geographical footprint are already partnering with industry and community partners (including Everymind, Lifeline Direct and the ANU Centre for Mental Health Research) to tailor solutions specifically to their regions.

It represents a serious, long-term commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of the one-third of Australians experiencing much poorer mental health than their metropolitan counterparts.

Funded by a $3.66 million Commonwealth grant under the new Regional Research Collaboration program, the Manna Institute mobilises individuals embedded within vulnerable communities.

“The institute engages experts, those with lived experience of mental ill-health, First Nations peoples and service providers to co-design research with direct applications," said Manna Institute Director Professor Myfanwy Maple from the University of New England.

“It is an innovative approach designed to find evidence-based solutions to support vulnerable populations earlier and more effectively.

“This is vital to addressing the complex and multi-faceted causes of mental ill-health in rural and regional Australia, including reduced financial security, social isolation, vulnerability to natural disasters, and limited access to healthcare and other vital services.”

Manna Institute Chief Investigator and Charles Sturt Professor of Management and Leadership, Russell Roberts (pictured), said the Manna Institute’s contribution to building rural mental health services and funding for research will make meaningful impacts to the industry.

"The commitment to building rural mental health research capacity is vital to inform policy and practice to enhance the mental health of rural Australians," Professor Roberts said.

“The ultimate aim of the Manna Institute is to enhance the social wellbeing of rural people. Healthy, thriving communities foster health, and thriving people.”

Professor Roberts intends for the Institute to bring together rural universities to develop critical mass in researching rural mental health, which will help attract government grants to fund research and give early careers and emerging rural researchers the opportunity to grow their career in rural settings.

By building research capacity within the regions, the Manna Institute seeks to create the educational pathways that will ensure future generations of mental health researchers are capable of developing targeted solutions. Tertiary learning opportunities for community members will also expand the pipeline of skilled practitioners.

Lifeline Direct CEO Robert Sams believes the Manna Institute is a timely addition to the mental healthcare landscape.

“We urgently need evidence-based services and to work more closely together for the benefit of regional and rural areas, where we know there is significant need,” he said.

“Manna Institute represents a wonderful learning opportunity for Lifeline Direct, where we can work with the best of the best. There’s this nice blend of academia, research and service delivery, which recognises the diversity of rural and remote communities.”

Everymind Director Dr Jaelea Skehan, OAM, believes the Manna Institute promises to transform mental health and suicide prevention efforts across the country in real time.

“There is no doubt that we need to bring together the best of community knowledge, lived experience knowledge and research to create the tools for people to make a difference in their own lives,” Dr Skehan said.

“It’s critical to be delivering trusted programs that meet people where they are, where they live, where they work, where they parent, and where they connect with a whole range of services. Manna Institute does that.”

Media Note:

For more information please contact Charles Sturt Media Manager Dave Neil at dneil@csu.edu.au.

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