Treatments for mental health conditions

This research focus is dedicated to identifying and developing novel treatments for mental health conditions, particularly self-management and other cutting-edge interventions.

Illness self-management

Illness self-management is a broad term referring to a range of psychosocial interventions, which aim to empower people to manage their own mental health. These include:

  • Psychological (talking) therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy
  • Skills based interventions such as mindfulness training
  • Self-guided online and mobile app based interventions
  • Bio- and neurofeedback based interventions
  • Peer-to-peer interventions, such as peer support and online peer communities.

Our use of the term illness self-management rather than psychological therapy reflects that significant innovation in this field is extending beyond the traditional format of face-to-face talking based therapies. Additionally, as our population ages we have an accompanying increased proportion of people living with chronic medical conditions, the concept of self-management is of growing importance to medical illnesses as well as mental health.

Online and mobile interventions are a key growth area in mental health, and in promoting self-management of chronic medical problems. This field provides options for more widespread implementation of health interventions than has been achieved through traditional psychotherapies. Interventions are evolving from web-based self-help programs, through programs for mobile phone devices, to interventions that integrate mobile apps with phone-based and wearable sensors.

E-therapy research

Swinburne has a significant record in leading e-therapy research. Since 2008 Swinburne has run the National eTherapy Centre (NeTC), funded by the Commonwealth Department of Health, which administers a comprehensive web-based e-therapy platform called Mental Health Online (MHO).

MHO operates as a service for people with anxiety disorders offering self-guided and therapist coached self-management programs, and has provided a research platform on which interventions can be developed and trialed. Over the past three years we have significantly broadened our work in this field to included mobile app development, online video consultation-based therapy, wearable sensor-based biofeedback, and tablet computer-based interventions designed for integration with face-to-face healthcare.

Alongside our original software platform for MHO, we have developed a second platform, SMART (Self-Management and Recovery Technology). This is funded by the Victorian State Government as part of a research program into integrating digital resources into for people with persisting mental health problems, and provides a platform optimised for viewing on tablet computers and mobile phones, for use within both face-to-face healthcare interactions as well as independently, and for integrating with peer support.

Pharmacological therapies

We have a limited but growing repertoire of research aimed at improving pharmacological treatments for severe mental health conditions, particularly schizophrenia and obsessive compulsive disorders. This research is being completed with our hospital collaborators.

Our other research strengths within pharmacology interventions include:

  • Basic research identifying novel medications
  • Efficacy trials examining adjunctive medications

Brain Stimulation Techniques

A third area for future development is brain-stimulation treatments, which are a further growth area for mental health disorders.

They are generally reserved for situations in which medications and psychotherapy have not worked. They include transcranial magnetic stimulation, vagus nerve stimulation and an experimental treatment called deep brain stimulation (DBS). With our hospital collaborators we are already completing research using these techniques to improve the quality of lives of those with treatment-resistant mental health conditions.

There is substantial scope to harness industry funding to grow this research area.