I commenced my career as a Clinical Psychologist almost 20 years ago. Whilst I enjoy clinical work and the satisfaction of working 1:1 with a client, I sought to evaluate and improve my clinical practice through research. Ultimately I was attracted to research as a way to improve mental health outcomes more broadly, by developing, testing and implementing psychological interventions. It is important that the public perception of medical research includes mental health research and that we acknowledge that the path to improved health and wellbeing includes the development, testing and implementation of interventions for psychiatric conditions.
Ultimately I would like to change the way that Australians think about alcohol so that we can make informed choices about when and how much to consume. A great many alcohol related health and mental health harms would be reduced if we thought of alcohol in the same way we think of sugar – a “sometimes food” that is enjoyable in small doses but not ideal to consume in large amounts every day.
One of the ways that I plan to do this is by developing an evidence based intervention specifically for women to help them manage the pressures of their lives in a healthy and sustainable way, without needing alcohol as a stress reliever.
Dr Sally Hunt is a Clinical Psychologist and Senior Lecturer at the University of Newcastle, where she trains post-graduate psychologists as Convenor of the Master of Professional Psychology program. Sally has worked both clinically and in a research capacity in the field of mental health for over 15 years, and completed her PhD in 2015. Sally’s research examines the relationship between substance use and mental health disorders, with a focus on developing and disseminating eHealth interventions for these problems. Currently Sally is leading research into the increasing use of alcohol by Australian women and the development of an online intervention to support women’s health and well-being.
Culturally, the dominant attitude towards alcohol is an enormous barrier to overcome. In Australia there is a tendency to downplay the alcohol associated harms (compared with other substances of abuse); the impact of alcohol use (for example, alcohol is responsible for nearly one third of the burden of road traffic injuries); and the amount of alcohol that constitutes hazardous use (as little as 3 drinks per week increases a woman’s risk of breast cancer by 15%). I imagine that my research future will work to shift these embedded attitudes towards alcohol which will address alcohol use at a population level, while also implementing evidence based interventions for alcohol use at an individual level.