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.

2019 Beverley Raphael New Investigator Grants

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.

The 2019 Beverley Raphael New Investigator Grant recipients are listed below.

Bionomic fractals and evidence-based design: Improving patient and staff outcomes in an acute psychiatry ward

Dr Marc Jurblum, RANZCP Trainee

Admission to a mental health ward is a confronting experience. At the height of their vulnerability, the patient is exposed not only to the illness of others but is expected to endure a stressful clinical environment. Environmental psychology has demonstrated the building and its aesthetic impact on the patient’s physiological stress, their resulting recovery trajectory and their engagement with health clinicians both during their admission and following discharge. Evidence-based design (EBD) seeks to characterise features of the built environment which display a transactional relationship with human physiology (stress responses/visual perception) and psychology (performance/resilience/social modulation).

This study will apply EBD and existing healthcare design principles in an acute psychiatry ward environment. It aims to identify environmental features where modifications are both low cost and likely to have significant impact on patient outcomes (length of stay, episodes of aggression) and staff resilience/performance (stress/sick leave).

The study will also pioneer the application of bionomic fractal visual interventions on the ward which have previously been demonstrated to have beneficial cognitive and affective impacts in non-healthcare settings simply through passive exposure. This neuroaesthetic intervention will be examined to potentially further elucidate the relationship between human visual processing and the much-researched benefits of exposure to natural environments.

Stimulating social cognition in early psychosis: Effects of anodal high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation to the right temporo-parietal junction in young adults with early psychosis

Dr Patrik Ho, RANZCP Trainee

Awareness of relationships that exist between oneself, one’s surroundings, and other agents is a primary, ongoing task of the perceptual system. This is known as the self–other processing.

Although symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions are characteristic of the psychosis-related conditions, it is the cognitive deficits that have the greatest negative impact on social and occupational functioning. The current inability to improve social cognition with pharmacological treatment has encouraged researchers to identify innovative methods to address these issues.

The use of anodal high-definition transcranial direct current stimulation (HD-tDCS) to improve cognition provides some optimism that future treatment options may be more personalised and better able to target brain regions or networks responsible for cognitive deficits.

If successful, this study will provide novel evidence for whether HD-tDCS to the ‘social brain’ has a similar effect in people living with psychosis as it previously has been demonstrated to have in healthy young adults. The baseline data from this research will also provide novel evidence for differences in social cognition between young adults with psychosis and healthy young participants.

2019 RANZCP Foundation Early Research Career Grants 

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

The 2019 RANZCP Foundation Early Research Career Grant recipients are listed below.

The Sydney Melancholia Prototypic Index as a predictor of treatment response to ketamine for treatment-resistant depression

Dr Adam Bayes, RANZCP Fellow

Approximately one third of individuals with depression fail to achieve remission despite multiple trials of antidepressant medication – so-called ‘treatment resistant depression’ (TRD). Studies examining ketamine versus placebo have shown ketamine to be a rapid and effective antidepressant for TRD.

The aim of the current project is to examine use of the Sydney Melancholia Prototypic Index – a clinical tool that classifies patients into differing subtypes of depression (melancholic vs. non-melancholic) – and its prediction of subsequent mood improvement after ketamine therapy. It has been proposed that melancholic symptoms may identify those more likely to respond to ketamine. Findings may contribute to a more personalised approach to treatment selection for depression, allowing for selection of a subgroup of individuals more likely to benefit from ketamine treatment.

Dr Adam Bayes is a psychiatrist and clinical senior lecturer based at the University of New South Wales and the Black Dog Institute, Sydney. He recently completed his PhD on differentiating the bipolar disorders from borderline personality disorder. His research interests focus on mood disorders including novel treatments.

‘Papa BEAR’ – Building Early Attachment and Resilience (BEAR) – A pilot of an attachment-based group intervention for fathers and their infants in neonatal intensive care

Dr Natalie van Swet

Becoming a parent to a premature baby can be stressful and emotionally challenging. Prematurity can present challenges to some of the core tasks of early parenting and can influence the developing parent–child relationship. Parents often report feelings of shock, grief and guilt. Research focusses on the maternal experience, with a paucity of data in regard to the developing father–child bond ‘Papa BEAR’ is a novel program to support fathers with the transition to parenthood in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

There are two phases of this project, which is mixed methods in design, with a range of pre- and post-intervention assessment tools. Phase one involves seeking consumer feedback from fathers who have previously had an infant in NICU. The qualitative data analysed will contribute to refinement of the program prior to implementation of a pilot study.

The aim of the pilot study is to test feasibility and acceptability of a father-friendly program in NICU. Eligible fathers will be randomised to either the treatment or control group with those in the treatment arm participating in a once weekly 90-minute group program over five weeks. The focus of these sessions is to think about the infant’s emotional world and help support new fathers in this early phase of parenting.

2019 Trisno Family Research Grant in Old Age Psychiatry

The Trisno Family Research Grant in Old Age Psychiatry, supported by a donation from Dr Roth Trisno and family, aims to support research in the field of old age psychiatry to address the need for more research to optimise the prevention, diagnosis, management and continuing care strategies for older populations.

The grant aims to grow the subspecialty workforce in this area through targeted funding each year specifically in the field of old age psychiatry.

The 2018 Trisno Family Research Grant in Old Age Psychiatry recipient is listed below.

Successful Ageing from New Zealand Laypersons Perspective. Defining Successful Ageing in New Zealand

Dr Nurrul Johari

Dr Nurrul Johari is an advanced trainee in old age psychiatry in Dunedin, New Zealand who was awarded the Trisno Family Research Grant in Old Age Psychiatry to undertake her research project ‘Successful Ageing from New Zealand Laypersons Perspective. Defining Successful Ageing in New Zealand’. Dr Johari’s research aims to provide a clearer public understanding of successful ageing, a term first coined in the 1980s by Rowe and Kahn. Through her research project, Dr Johari identifies the importance of planning and preparing educational programs and interventions to promote health in old age as part of nationwide preventative measures. By understanding how the public perceives successful ageing, Dr Johari also hopes to ensure models used have social significance both locally and to inform policy makers. Starting with surveying community-dwelling older adults attending public talks in and around Dunedin, Dr Johari later aspires to expand her study to obtain a nationwide perception of successful ageing.

The RANZCP Psychotherapy Research Award

This grant encourages research in psychotherapy among RANZCP trainees and recent Fellows in Australia and New Zealand. A maximum of up to $10,000 in line with the research project budget may be awarded.

The 2019 RANZCP Psychotherapy Research Award recipient is listed below.

Psychoeducation, formulation and psychotherapy for functional neurological disorders

Dr Myles Gutkin, RANZCP Fellow

With the support of the RANZCP Foundation the pilot study has been completed, with 29 participants and sufficient benefit detected to warrant continuation of the research. Long term follow-up and exit interviews are now underway to establish sustained benefit and acceptability.

The next year of the study will be focussed on interpreting the results of the pilot to modify and manualise the intervention in preparation for a randomised controlled trial to be undertaken over the subsequent two years.

2020-2021 Kinsman Family Research Scholarship 

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

The 2020-21 Pat, Toni and Peter Kinsman Research Scholarship recipient is listed below.

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

Associate Professor Yoram Barak, RANZCP Fellow

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.

Past research highlights

Clinical predictors of suicidal behaviour in young people engaged in primary mental health care: A 5-year follow up study of clinical, neuropsychological and neurobiological markers

Dr Cate McHugh

The RANZCP New Investigator Grant was instrumental in developing the second project of my PhD on suicidal behaviour in young people, which has recently been accepted for publication in the Journal of Affective Disorders. Our findings suggest that, for young people (15–30 years old) in clinical services, superior verbal memory, but impaired attention and cognitive flexibility, predict future suicidal behaviour. Suicidal behaviour is generally associated with impaired cognitive functioning, but most samples include adults aged 40–60 years old. The different relationship between neurocognitive functioning and suicidality across the life span suggests these impairments in adults are not the result of a trait disposition, but may be a result of mediating factors, such as repeated episodes of illness, substance use or ageing.

Intergenerational processes in refugee families: Legacy and transmission of trauma

Dr Lux Ratnamohan

Under the supervision of Professor Derrick Silove and Associate Professor Sarah Mares, my research uses mixed methods to explore the intergenerational legacy of war and the determinants of wellbeing in children from Sri Lankan Tamil refugee families. I found that child wellbeing was influenced less by direct trauma exposure and more by maternal mental health and attachment security. The nature of memory work children engaged in to process traumatic memory, whether ‘burying’ or ‘reifying’ the past, was intimately connected to the quality of their attachment relationships with surviving parents. Through the research process of interviewing families, working with community members and engaging local services, a youth group for Tamil refugee children emerged and has now been running for four years with the support of STARTTS.

Complaints about psychiatrists: A national retrospective cohort study of health, performance and conduct concerns reported to medical regulators in Australia

Dr Benjamin Veness

With the support of the RANZCP Foundation New Investigator Grant and my co-investigators, we researched the nature of complaints made to health regulators about registered mental health practitioners compared with physical health practitioners in Australia between 2011 and 2016.

Together with my colleagues, we found that mental health practitioners had a complaint rate that was more than twice that of physical health practitioners. Their risk of complaints was especially high in relation to reports, records, confidentiality, interpersonal behaviour, sexual boundary breaches and the mental health of the practitioner. Our research findings bolster calls to better understand the patient perspective within mental health practice, including identifying and sharing lessons from previous complaints. Our findings also raise questions about whether more should be done to develop skills beyond diagnosis and treatment – including professional ethics and written communication – during training and ongoing professional development.'

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