NBN “Medical Marvels” Series – Depression research

Jun 4 2009

Professor Amanda Baker

One in five Australians will experience a mental illness at some stage in their lives. Many will also experience problems with the use of alcohol, cigarettes or illegal drugs. For years treatment did not address the link between these two conditions.

Professor Amanda Baker from the University of Newcastle has led some of the world’s largest randomised controlled trials in this area to develop better treatment strategies.

What have you discovered?

We have found that it might be more important to treat mental disorders and alcohol or drug use holistically, rather than separately. We have identified that people with mental health problems and drug and alcohol problems are often willing to change their substance use and want help to achieve that.

The duration of treatment required by people with psychosis and depression and substance use problems differs according to whether they are using alcohol or drugs. Fairly brief interventions can be successful in addressing alcohol use, whereas cannabis use can require a lengthier intervention. Our research also suggests that men and women tend to respond to different types of therapy.

Why is this significant?

People with coexisting substance abuse and mental disorders can experience reduced accommodation and employment options and financial hardship. Time away from work and the use of health services substantially increases with comorbidity. The health and economic costs of managing these conditions is also high.

How is your research making an impact on health?

Due to the separation of mental health services and drug and alcohol services, many people with the coexisting problems don’t receive appropriate treatment for both conditions.

Our research is informing the effectiveness of the approach of treating both conditions at the same time and how to do that. Our findings show that even a brief intervention can be effective, which means that clinicians treating mental health issues could be trained in how to deliver these brief interventions addressing substance abuse.

Additionally, our research has informed intervention guidelines for amphetamine users, assisting emergency departments, general practitioners, counsellors, police and paramedics.

What have you achieved since you received the PULSE Award for Early Career Research in 2003?

My research has been published in peer reviewed international journals. In 2003 I received a five year National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Career Development Award. In 2008 I commenced a NHMRC Senior Research Fellowship for a further five years. I have recently been promoted to Professor.

Amanda, a Brawn Research Fellow and Clinical Psychologist, is a member of the University ofNewcastle’s Priority Research Centre for Brain and Mental Health, and the HMRI Brain and Mental Health Research Program.

Amanda’s research has been supported by HMRI grants funded by corporate and community donations.