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Local approach to mental health research

Years of experience working with families has led to a long list of questions for social worker, Michael Naughton. 

Finally, he’s getting the opportunity to find answers to some of those questions in a major research project about the prevalence of mental illness in families who seek support through Latrobe Regional Hospital’s Child and Youth Mental Health Service. 

Michael, a PhD candidate is among a group of staff at LRH who have embarked on major research projects about mental health and the services available in the local community. 

Their work was showcased at an event at LRH in October. 

Michael is trying to find out how a parent’s mental illness can affect their child’s mental health and if a child with a mental illness has a similar impact on a parent. 

“It hasn’t really been examined by anyone in the world,” Michael said. “We need to find out what is happening when a child of someone with a mental illness starts to have a deterioration in their own mental health. 

“At the moment services may be working with a parent with a mental illness and their child has anxiety, but that isn’t looked at or addressed at the same time.” 

Michael has just completed collecting data about families and their mental health across Gippsland. The data so far indicates a link between a child with a mental illness and a parent experiencing their own mental health issue and vice versa. 

“My research is about studying the data and saying, yes, this is an issue and here are some solutions that may help families.” 

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Stuart Thomas said new research such as that being undertaken by LRH nurses, allied health staff and psychiatrists, draws on and develops the best ideas from the past so it is relevant and responsive to the situations clinicians and people with mental health issues currently face.

 “LRH is proud to support and participate in psychiatric research, as it plays its part in promoting excellence in understanding and support of people who use our service and their families,” he said. 

An example of that is the work being undertaken by LRH intake clinician Jonine Naughton, who as part of her PhD research, is analysing a system used by the Child and Youth Mental Health Service called the Choice and Partnership Approach Model (CAPA). 

The CAPA initial Choice appointment enables a young person and their family to develop a joint formulation of the problem and agree upon future goals. Part of the process is for  young people and their families to determine whether the Child and Youth Mental Health Service or another agency will be part of ongoing care. 

LRH was the first health service in Victoria to implement the CAPA model, however Jonine Naughton said there has been little research on it nationally or internationally and nothing on whether it is a self-directed recovery process. 

“CAPA has contributed to a reduction in waiting lists. At LRH the waiting lists for child and youth mental health programs have gone down from an average of 63 days to 10,” she said. 

“We’re doing a better job at seeing young people in a timely manner and we’re also seeing young people who are not so distressed by their mental health or their symptoms or social effects because of this.” 

Jo said the CAPA model turned clinicians from “experts with power”, to facilitators who help young people and their families identify issues and come up with a plan for care. 

She will interview people a few months after their Choice appointment to find out whether they were able to follow through with their initial goals. 

“I’m very passionate about service development for children and adolescents so this is really exciting research for me,” Jonine said. 

“Other health services will be able to determine from my research whether CAPA is a model they are able to use.” 

The Mental Health Research Symposium also highlighted a project on cognitive behaviour therapy for older adults with insomnia and depression in a community mental health setting, trans-cultural psychiatry, child protection management and the use of an amino acid in borderline personality disorder.