What are your research interests?
- Having a better understanding of the mental health needs in our community, which is reflected through my work in rural mental health, in particular, looking at the needs and experiences of people living in rural and remote areas.
- Investigating how we improve the quality of care provided to people with mental health problems, particularly involving health service-related research
- Looking at the interaction between physical health and mental health, particularly the mental health needs of people with quite serious physical illness. This involves working closely with my colleagues in oncology and palliative care, and early on my research with HIV infection. This has also opened areas such as how people cope and respond to the stress of something like a severe, life-threatening illness, through to how we can better support clinicians – doctors and nurses – who are providing day-to-day care for people with cancer and other conditions; particularly ways we can help those clinicians respond better to the emotional, psychological and mental health needs of patients and families.
- The education and training of health professionals, in mental health and generally. In particular, how we help them be better prepared to respond the needs of their patients and families they are looking after.
Why did you get into research?
I enjoy thinking through a problem and trying to find a solution, particularly some of the problems we face on a day-to-day basis around mental health care. I’ve always tried to research areas I’m working in as a clinician, so it complements my clinical work, and enables me to look at questions that crop up from the work I do with patients and families.
I’ve always had an interest in the social sciences, as well as other sciences. Psychiatry gives me the opportunity to combine an interest in people, their lives, their experiences and how we can help them, alongside the science of psychiatry. Research brought those interests together, around the art of medicine as well as the science.
In research, I’m able to work with people from various disciplines. One of the most rewarding aspects of research is the way you work as a team with others who have different ideas and perspectives on problems – particularly when they are from very different fields of healthcare, or even different industries such as mining and engineering. It takes me into a new areas, but I think it also invites them into a new area around mental health.
What would be the ultimate goal for your research?
Ultimately, the thing I feel most passionately about is creating a much better linkage between general health care and mental health, and that we overcome the barriers that exist for people getting good mental health care. This way mental health is integrated into everyday care of patients wherever they might go, wherever they are looked after, for whatever problem.
So my real passion is to see all health professionals better equipped to address the mental health needs of their patients. That there be more positive attitudes towards caring for people with mental illness, and that patients and their families who are experiencing mental illness have much better access to the sort of care they require.
Professor Brian Kelly is Interim Head of School, School of Medicine and Public Health, and a Director of the Priority Research Centre for Brain and Mental Health at the University of Newcastle. He is also a Clinical Academic, Consultation-Liaison Psychiatrist at John Hunter Hospital.
Professor Kelly has a distinguished track record spanning psychiatric epidemiology, palliative care and psycho-oncology, substance use, social determinants of mental health and ethical aspects of clinical practice.
In 2004 Professor Kelly was appointed Director of the NSW Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health. He subsequently led a ground-breaking, NHMRC-funded, longitudinal study of mental health in rural regions (the Australian Rural Mental Health Study).
Flow-on projects addressing the mental health needs of farming communities include Farm Link (supported by the National Suicide Prevention Program) and the XTEND study investigating the role of social support in mental health outcomes, with a focus on men.
Professor Kelly has also conducted significant workplace interventions and research in primary industries, including coal mining, playing a key role in informing mental health policy. His work in population mental health has yielded international collaborations in South East Asia addressing workplace mental health and impacts of environmental adversity.
He has reaped almost $12 million in nationally competitive research grants and produced over 200 publications, including more than 150 papers in peer-reviewed scientific literature. His results have been recognised internationally through high citation rates and frequent invitations for keynote addresses at conferences.
- Palliative care and psycho-oncology
- Rural mental health including psychiatric epidemiology
- Social determinants of mental health
- HIV infection/AIDS
- Research in ethical aspects of clinical practice
- Health service administration/management
- Leadership and management
- Teaching and education of health professionals