Current research highlights

The RANZCP Foundation encourages psychiatric research as an important activity to drive new discoveries in mental health, research theory and methods essential for clinical psychiatry practice. 

Our grants, scholarships and awards programs support this aim.

2021 Beverley Raphael New Investigator Grant recipients

The Beverley Raphael New Investigator Grants provide a number of small grants up to a combined total of $20,000 annually to RANZCP trainees or recent Fellows to facilitate research projects.

Addressing suicide following severe burn injury

Dr Jennifer Long, RANZCP Trainee

Severe burn injuries are associated with serious physical, psychological and social challenges, posing a significant medical problem worldwide. Research suggests patients who survive burn injuries experience lower quality of life and higher levels of emotional distress than the general population. There remains a paucity of information examining psychological outcomes in severe burn injury survivors. To our knowledge, there has not been research examining the rate of suicide in major burn injury survivors, or the risk factors associated with completed suicide. Our project aims to identify the rate of suicide in patients who have a history of surviving a severe burn injury using data linkage between the Burns Registry of Australia and New Zealand (BRANZ), and the National Coronial Information System (NCIS). We aim to identify potential risk factors associated with completed suicide. These may facilitate improved detection and intervention in those at increased risk of completing suicide.

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Telehealth, protect the bubble: clinician perspectives on mental health service delivery during COVID-19

Dr Benjamin Werkmeister, RANZCP trainee

This project investigates the implementation of telehealth as an alternative to in-person care to inform future use of this technology. This mixed methods project applies an interpretive description lens to investigate: (1) clinicians’ perspectives on how telehealth has been implemented in outpatient mental health teams in the Wellington region during the first wave of COVID-19, and (2) trends in telehealth use and outpatient appointments using administrative data.

At the time of writing, Dr Werkmeister is in the middle of analysing this data, having completed interviews with 33 clinicians who used telehealth over the period March to May 2020. To date, findings appear to suggest that telehealth, while an option, requires a lot of nuanced considerations for clinicians to use the technology effectively.

This work is timely, given: the (1) recent widespread COVID-19 lockdowns, (2) lack of evidence on service-wide implementation, (3) potential for digital exclusion to be exacerbated, and (4) impending New Zealand health system reform. 

Studying the link between microRNAs and the metabolic effects in response to second-generation antipsychotics

Dr Nabilah Islam, RANZCP trainee

Second-generation antipsychotics (SGAs) are an important treatment for psychosis and are often used in the treatment of other mental illnesses as well. Unfortunately, one of the main adverse effects of this class of medication is for patients to develop metabolic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolaemia or weight gain. Our research project aims to explore whether there is a relationship between the levels of certain microRNA and the development of these metabolic conditions. MicroRNAs are chemical messengers that have an important role in gene regulation. Research in this area could help us understand whether microRNAs could be used to screen and detect patients who are at higher risk of developing metabolic conditions and thus help optimise their management. This research will be conducted jointly by clinicians at the Liverpool Hospital Early Psychosis Intervention Program and Ingham Research Institute.
 

Understanding the negative symptoms of psychotic illness through neuroimaging and multimodal data analysis

Dr Jayson Jeganathan, RANZCP trainee

Impairments in facial expressivity, motivation, and sociality are the most debilitating and negatively regarded features of psychotic disorders, yet they are inadequately treated. This study will use facial emotion detection algorithms and functional brain imaging to discover the changes in the brain’s emotional circuits that underlie negative symptoms.

In the first experiment, participants will watch naturalistic movies while automated facial expression analysis is used to characterise facial expressions. Data fusion of neuroimaging, heart rate, pupillometry, and facial modalities will provide an ‘emotional fingerprint’ of their responses. In the second experiment, participants will be shown emotive face images while receiving true or false feedback of their own heart rate. This tests whether impairments in perceiving one’s own heart rate contributes to affective blunting.

This research is expected to enable greater understanding of the brain networks underlying abnormal emotional inference and provide guidance for the development of therapeutics for negative symptoms.


2021 RANZCP Foundation Early Research Career Grant recipient

The Early Career Research Grants are designed to encourage innovative research in psychiatry and to encourage those who might be new to research or intend to have a career in research, by providing up to $10,000 in funding.

Physical health and activity of individuals under inpatient forensic psychiatric care

Dr Katherine Moss, RANZCP Fellow

Individuals who find themselves under forensic inpatient psychiatric care are at high risk of being overweight or obese, gaining weight during admissions, and developing metabolic syndrome and associated medical illnesses. There is currently no national approach to providing physical activity for patients detained under inpatient forensic psychiatric care in Australia.

This project seeks to consider what measures of physical health and activity high secure units across Australia currently collect, and what opportunities are currently available for individuals to access physical activity. The project also aims to use expert consensus to determine relevant key performance indicators (KPIs) for assessing the physical health and activity of individuals under inpatient forensic psychiatric care. The project will further consider the needs and gaps to managing the physical health and activity of forensic patients, and provide recommendations for forensic services so that they are equipped to best meet the needs of individuals under inpatient forensic psychiatric care.

The importance of this study is best expressed by forensic consumers themselves, who have been interviewed in associated research:

‘All the endorphins affect your mental health…you sleep better if you exercise…function better…it gives you a feeling of wellbeing…works out your emotions’ 

‘As far as my mental health goes I can’t put it into words…I just feel so much saner when I exercise…I’m more positive and smile more’.


2021 RANZCP Foundation Catalyst Grant recipient

The RANZCP Foundation Catalyst Grants are designed to provide seed funding for researchers to develop new projects and proposals with the direct endorsement of the RANZCP Foundation. By providing funding at the early stages, the Catalyst Grants are designed to enable researchers to upscale their projects and apply for further competitive funding.

Combining music therapy and psychotherapy for people affected by younger-onset dementia

A/Prof Samantha Loi, RANZCP Fellow

Music and Psychotherapy and Social Connections (MAPS) is a novel pilot project combining traditional cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with music therapy for people living with youngeronset dementia (YOD) and their carers.

People living with YOD, as well as their carers or support persons, are at high risk of depression and anxiety due to ongoing psychosocial stressors of living with and supporting someone with dementia from a young age. Perceived lack of support and social isolation can further contribute to mental illness. There is increasing evidence that both CBT and music therapy are beneficial for these groups.

This pilot project involves a seven-week online manualised group program for carers and people living with YOD.

We will use a combination of CBT and music therapy, with themes of:

1. Dealing with the challenges and changes associated with living with YOD or being a carer; and 
2. Finding ways to be positive and focusing on the things we value.

Through using a combined therapy approach and connecting people living with YOD and their carers through a group program, we hope to improve the mental health and social connectedness of those who participate. If shown to be effective, the results from this pilot can be used for further development and potential expansion of the program.


Pat, Toni and Peter Kinsman Research Scholarship recipient

The Pat, Toni and Peter Kinsman Research Scholarship, supported by a bequest from the Kinsman family, was established in 1996 to encourage research into post-natal depression in women in Australia and New Zealand. The Scholarship comprises a sum of up to $50,000 over a two-year period.

Progesterone loading as a strategy for treating postpartum depression: A proof of concept study

Associate Professor Yoram Barak, RANZCP Fellow

The 2020-21 Pat, Toni and Peter Kinsman Research Scholarship recipient was Associate Professor Yoram Barak, who is currently undertaking the following research.

Progesterone loading as a strategy for treating postpartum depression: A proof of concept study’ aims to assess the feasibility of oral progesterone loading as a treatment for postpartum depression (PPD).

Recently, brexanolone (synthetic allopregnanolone) received USA approval for treatment of PPD. However, brexanolone, which is only available through a restricted program, has to be given intravenously and costs US$35,000. A safe, equitable and globally accessible inexpensive treatment for PPD is needed.

Perinatal hormones such as allopregnanolone (an endogenous progesterone metabolite) are currently the most promising avenues of search for treatment. Studies of progesterone’s effects in PPD are few and inconclusive. This study will help confirm predictions that orally dosed progesterone will increase concentrations of allopregnanolone in the central nervous system, which should relieve symptoms of PPD.

Associate Professor Yoram Barak is a psychogeriatrician and academic in Dunedin, New Zealand who is dedicated to translating scientific endeavours into public health benefits. He will undertake this project alongside his colleagues Professor Paul Glue, Dr Chris Gale and Associate Professor Natalie Medlicott at the University of Otago, School of Medicine.

Improving depression in Indigenous mothers using art and health education

Dr Beth Mah, RANZCP Fellow

The 2018-19 Pat, Toni and Peter Kinsman Research Scholarship recipient was Dr Beth Mah, who has provided the below update on her research.

During 2020, research funds were used to employ an Aboriginal research assistant who successfully completed a five-week pilot program in three Aboriginal organisations in the Taree-Forster area (despite the bushfires, and then the pandemic). Women were engaged into the program by use of art.

Traditionally, Aboriginal toys were items made from carved wood, shells, grasses, wood, leaves, bark and other organic materials such as clay, animal bones and manure. This traditional art form was chosen for cultural relevance and for simplicity to allow women to focus upon the health component of the intervention.

This consisted of yarning (psychoeducation) about the following topics: social and emotional wellbeing, self-care, post-natal depression, attachment, infant feeding, infant behaviour and domestic violence.

Twenty-three women participated in the pilot. Initial analyses indicate significant improvement immediately after each session in the domains of mood, confidence and calmness.

There was also a significant improvement in the connectedness subscale of the Growth and Empowerment Scale from baseline to after completion of the five-week intervention. A non-significant but improving trend existed for the total scores of both the Aboriginal Resilience and Recovery Questionnaire and the Social Support Survey.

ArtsHealth participants commented that:

‘I really enjoy spending time with everyone – sharing my story with others allows me to feel strong within myself, and being around an understanding group really helps me feel normal. Thank you so much’

‘Was great and was very soothing therapy – would love to be here every week’

‘Today was awesome, it was relaxed, I came out of my shell and spoke a lot more and it was good to talk and laugh with people out of my friend circle’

The research team are now planning a longer intervention which will be provided to a larger group of Aboriginal mothers struggling with depression.


2021 Trisno Family Research Grant in Old Age Psychiatry recipient

Supported by an ongoing donation from Dr Roth Trisno and family, the Trisno Family Research Grant in Old Age Psychiatry works to address the need for more research in the prevention, diagnosis, management and continuing care strategies for mental health conditions in older people.

Two grants of up to $5,000 can be awarded each year.

The role of biomarkers in late-life depression: Examining inflammation and depression in older patients with the ASPREE Trial

Dr Malcolm Forbes, RANZCP Fellow

Depression is a common and highly disabling condition in older adults. It is a heterogeneous disorder and there is emerging evidence for a link between inflammation and depression in some older patients. Persistent low-level inflammation, from several sources including psychological distress and chronic disease, can disrupt monoaminergic and glutaminergic systems to create dysfunctional brain networks.

This study seeks to further characterise markers of inflammation using the ASPirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly (ASPREE) trial, a 19,000-person randomised controlled trial which collected data on several putative inflammatory biomarkers. By improving understanding of these biomarkers in the pathogenesis of depression, this study aims to better identify factors causing depression in the elderly at a biological level. This may in turn lead to more personalised and effective treatment options tailored to the individual, giving hope to those whose depression has not responded to standard care.


2021 RANZCP Psychotherapy Research Award winner

The RANZCP Psychotherapy Research Award encourages research in psychotherapy among RANZCP trainees and recent Fellows in Australia and New Zealand.

Exploring personal psychotherapy for trainee psychiatrists during their training

Dr Mandy Fazeli Kisomi, RANZCP trainee

The role and impact of personal psychotherapy in psychiatry training has long been a controversial topic and the attitude towards the subject has significantly shifted over the decades. Studies suggest that the uptake of personal therapy in psychiatry trainees has declined in the second half of the twentieth century, despite a general agreement in the profession that it is a valuable training experience.

This project is the first study in Australia that aims to understand trainees’ experiences of undertaking personal psychotherapy during their training. The project explores the characteristic of personal psychotherapy among Victorian RANZCP trainees and the attitude towards role and importance of being in personal therapy during general training.

It is hoped that the result of this study will be beneficial for both trainees and supervisors, encouraging trainees to consider personal therapy as an educational and therapeutic tool, while revealing the gaps in this area for further research.


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