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Preventing chronic disease among people with mental illness

May 29 2018

Professor Jenny Bowman

Increased support to prevent chronic disease in people with mental illness will be the focus of a $597,507 Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) investment for Australian researchers.

Worldwide, the life expectancy of people living with mental illness is 12 to 30 years less than those without mental illness, an inequity largely attributable to a greater burden from chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease, cancers and diabetes. However, many of these diseases can be prevented by addressing harmful lifestyle behaviours including smoking, inadequate physical activity, harmful alcohol consumption and poor nutrition.

Funded by the MRFF through The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre, Professor Jenny Bowman will lead a collaborative team of researchers in exploring the role community managed organisations (CMO) – not-for-profit or non-government organisations which provide support services to the community – can play in reducing the risk of chronic disease in people with mental illness.

Professor Bowman said the research would better equip frontline support workers to help those wishing to modify behaviours that put them at risk of chronic disease.

“People with a mental illness have a reduced life expectancy, primarily because they are at a higher risk of developing a physical chronic disease.

“Mental health services play a role in providing support, however the provision of preventive care against chronic disease could be a routine part of care provided to consumers by every agency delivering services to this high risk, vulnerable population group.

“What we’ll be focused on is addressing how CMOs can help play a greater role in filling the current gap in preventive care provision, and in reducing the inequitable chronic disease burden for people with a mental illness,” Professor Bowman said.

There are more than 800 CMOs in Australia providing a diverse range of mental health rehabilitation and support services, however there is a lack of research into how their efforts might be able to incorporate support for health risk behaviour change.

“We will be working with these organisations to paint a comprehensive picture of the support they offer, identifying the potential barriers they face and working with them to implement and enhance the valuable work they’re doing.

“A tangible, cost-effective model for the provision of preventive health care will be developed, which will be applicable to CMOs across the country,” Professor Bowman said.

University of Newcastle Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research and Innovation), Professor Kevin Hall, said the funding boost was a significant step in addressing the chronic disease burden.

“I congratulate Professor Bowman and her team on this great outcome. Their world-leading work in the field of mental health will have an important impact on health services and chronic disease sufferers globally,” he said.

* Funding for this research has been provided from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). The MRFF provides funding to support health and medical research and innovation, with the objective of improving the health and wellbeing of Australians. MRFF funding has been provided to The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre under the MRFF Boosting Preventive Health Research Program. Further information on the MRFF is available at www.health.gov.au/mrff.

* Professor Jenny Bowman is a health psychologist and researcher with UON’s Priority Research Centre for Health Behaviour. She is also a member of HMRI’s Public Health research program.

* The team is comprised of Professor Jenny Bowman, Professor John Wiggers, Associate Professor Luke Wolfenden, Dr Kate Bartlem, Dr Tara Clinton-McHarg, Associate Professor Andrew Searles and Professor Andrew Wilson.

HMRI is a partnership between the University of Newcastle, Hunter New England Health and the community.