Survey results are in

Survey results are in

The second National Survey of High Impact Psychosis (SHIP) has revealed how Australians with severe mental disorders face the challenges of living with psychosis.

The Schizophrenia Research Institute, through the Australian Schizophrenia Research Bank, collaborated with the survey which involved screening people in five states and conducting structured clinical interviews.

The survey found “encouraging signs of changes for the better on several fronts”, including an increase in community-based health services, a drop in hospital admissions from 59 percent to 39 percent, including involuntary admissions down from 31 percent to 21 percent and improvements in the pattern of accommodation. There are also signs that outcome has improved since the previous survey over 12 years ago.

People in the survey identified a number of leading challenges they face, with financial matters the number one concern (named by 43 percent).

Three-quarters of people with psychosis earn less than half the national average disposable income, and for most the main source of income is the Disability Support Pension. “Thus, many live in poverty and are at risk of all of the adverse consequences of belonging to an underclass,” according to a paper on the policy implications of the study.

The second biggest challenge is social exclusion: 37 percent of people in the survey name loneliness and social isolation as a common worry while almost half have never been in an enduring intimate relationship and 13 percent have no friends at all.

Lack of employment is high on the list of challenges. Only one-third of people with psychosis report having had some employment in the past year, which ties into the major problem of dealing with financial security.

Stigma or discrimination was experienced by 38 percent of study participants and women reported the problem more often than men.

The survey canvassed the difficulties of coping with poor mental health, the high rate of suicidal thinking, widespread substance abuse (66 percent smoke tobacco) including alcohol and other drug abuse. Not only are these proportions much higher than the general population, but they’ve increased since the psychosis survey of 1997-98.

To read the full SHIP report visit http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/mental-pubs-p-psych10

A blood test for schizophrenia?

A blood test for schizophrenia?

It’s not a matter of if, but when, says Dr Murray Cairns, that a blood test will detect whether a person is at risk of developing schizophrenia. And while much research remains to be done, he wouldn’t be surprised if that day comes in the next 10 years or so.

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Scoping Online Mental Health Assessments

Australia is a nation that spans great distances and many people live far from regional centres or capital cities where health and support services are located. These distances can be a barrier for accessing treatment or medical advice for a range of physical and mental illnesses.

Young people living in rural areas who are experiencing early psychosis may not have access to early neuropsychological assessments and relevant clinical expertise, which are necessary for comprehensive clinical evaluations and treatment planning.

Institute researcher Dr Helen Stain has investigated the use of video-conferencing for the assessments, which are used to confirm diagnosis, assess quality of life and neurocognitive functioning.

Dr Stain and the team at the University of Newcastle discovered that videoconference assessments are as reliable as face-to-face assessments for young people experiencing early psychosis. This broadens the scope for early intervention and better access to specialist services, and may eventually change the service delivery model in rural or underserviced areas.

Meet Our Researcher

Dr Ans Vercammen is a Post Doctoral Research Officer and an Institute Affiliated Scientist associated with the Schizophrenia Research Laboratory*.

In recognition of her dedication and research achievements, Dr Vercammen was recently recognised with the Institute’s Early Career Researcher Award, which included $7000 to support the continuation of her research into the neural mechanisms underlying the signs and symptoms of schizophrenia.

Q. What research are you currently involved with?
A. One of the areas that I am investigating is the neural basis of cognitive deficits and specific symptoms in schizophrenia. We also use that knowledge to devise novel therapeutic approaches, including the use of brain stimulation techniques to treat auditory hallucinations and cognitive problems, such as working memory and learning.

I am also involved in a clinical trial currently being undertaken at the Schizophrenia Research Laboratory, investigating the effect of a hormone receptor modulator as an adjunctive medication for people with schizophrenia.

Q. What has been the greatest challenge of your work?
A. The fact that schizophrenia is a heterogeneous illness: there is not a single cause, and the course of the illness varies a lot from one person to the next. Working in schizophrenia research has taught me that the techniques and knowledge that we borrow from ‘normal’ neuropsychology aren’t always applicable to illnesses such as schizophrenia, and that we need to be innovative about the way we approach the study of this illness.

Q. What do you find most fulfilling about your work?
A. The contact with and the positive reactions from participants, as well as the interaction between scientists from different backgrounds such as psychology, neurobiology and genetics. Due to the complex nature of the illness, we are working in multidisciplinary teams to broaden our scope, with the goal of creating a comprehensive picture of the causes and processes of the illness.

Research volunteers are still needed to take part in the Schizophrenia Research Laboratory’s hormone modulator drug trial in Sydney. For further information contact Alice Rothwell on (02) 9399 1683 or a.rothwell@neura.edu.au

*The Schizophrenia Research Laboratory is a joint initiative of the Schizophrenia Research Institute, University of NSW, Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and the Macquarie Group Foundation. It is supported by NSW Health.

Clinical Trial Research Participants Needed

Professor Cyndi Shannon Weickert and her team at the Schizophrenia Research Laboratory* are conducting the Institute’s first clinical drug trial aimed at improving cognitive performance in people with schizophrenia.

In 2009 Cyndi featured on Australian Story – All in Your Mind – with this episode screening again on Saturday 18 February 2012 on ABC News 24.

*The Schizophrenia Research Laboratory is a joint initiative of the Schizophrenia Research Institute, University of NSW, Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA), and the Macquarie Group Foundation. It is supported by NSW Health.