Date published: 
25 May 2020
Media type: 
Media release
Audience: 
General public

The Australian Government is providing more than $20 million additional funding for research to improve mental health care and reduce suicide rates in Australia.

Mental health and suicide prevention remains one of the Government’s highest priorities.

Almost half of Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetimes and as we battle COVID-19 it’s more important than ever that we prioritise mental health.

Call for Rapid Research on the Mental Health Impacts of COVID-19

The disruption to normal life caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the required restrictions has had profound impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of many Australians.

The Government will therefore be providing $3 million for a new grants round under the $125 million MRFF Million Minds Mission, for rapid research to improve the national mental health system response to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This funding is for new research that will help better position our mental health system to be more effective in supporting Australians to manage their mental health and wellbeing, during and following the pandemic.

Applications for grants of up to $1 million will open on 1 June, with the research projects expected to deliver results within 12 to 18 months.

These grants may support work consolidating data systems, and help design and deliver new treatments, services, and policies. The research is expected to also be relevant in future times of hardship, such as natural disasters.

These research projects and the grant opportunity complement the Government’s broader efforts around mental health and suicide prevention, including the recently announced National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan.

Since 30th January, the Government has provided an additional approximately $500 million for mental health services and support, including $64 million for suicide prevention, $74 million for preventative mental health services, $48 million to support the pandemic response plan.

It also includes a significant proportion of the $669 million telehealth package to support MBS-subsidised treatments provided by GPs, psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals.

$10.3 Million for Suicide Prevention Research

The Government is also investing $10.3 million to support three research projects to help reduce the rate of suicide in Australia.

In 2018, suicide was responsible for 12.1 deaths per 100,000 people in Australia, with 3,048 suicides recorded in that year.

Every suicide is a tragedy and devastates families, friends and loved ones.

Through the Million Minds Mental Health Research Mission, the Government is investing in projects to better understand suicide and provide the right services, in the right place, at the right time.

The three successful projects to receive grants through the Mission are:

  • University of Melbourne (Professor Jane Pirkis): will receive $5.6 million to research the prevention of suicide in boys and men. Men account for 75 per cent of all suicides. This research will trial five interventions designed to encourage men to seek help. It will also trial two interventions designed to ensure that if men and boys seek help from telephone crisis support workers and psychologists, these providers can offer services that meet their needs.
  • University of New South Wales (Scientia Professor Helen Christensen AO): will receive $3.7 million for the Under the Radar Project. As many as 60 per cent of those who die by suicide are not in care. Many will only use the internet. This project will investigate the use of the internet as the first point of contact and develop a collaborative, consumer-led, comprehensive care model using digital, peer support and face-to-face services.
  • Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (Associate Professor Rebecca Giallo): will receive $951,000 to research suicide prevention among men in early fatherhood. One of the highest rates of suicide among men coincides with becoming fathers and raising young children. This project will develop effective interventions to improve men's mental health during early fatherhood.

$6.75 Million to Improve Treatment Using Pharmacogenomics

In addition, the Government is investing $6.725 million to support research on the use of pharmacogenomics in providing more effective treatment options for Australians requiring medication for mental health challenges.

Pharmacogenomics looks at how genetics can affect a person’s response to certain drugs.

While psychological strategies are usually the first-line in treatment of mental illness, medications can be an important part of a treatment plan, with almost 10 per cent of Australians now regularly taking antidepressants.

However, a significant number of people do not respond positively to their first prescription, causing delays in improvements to their symptoms and sometimes exacerbating anxiety.

Studies suggest that antidepressant treatment response is significantly influenced by each person’s specific genetic profile, and delays in improvement of symptoms can potentially be reduced through predictive pharmacogenomics testing.

This $6.75 million in funding, under the Medical Research Future Fund’s Emerging Priorities and Consumer Driven Research initiative, will allow four leading researchers to investigate how pharmacogenomics can be used to tailor mental health prescriptions to the needs of each individual and improve health outcomes.

The successful recipients are:

  • Professor Jon Emery (University of Melbourne) who will receive $1.39 million to investigate the effects of using pharmacogenomics to prescribe antidepressants on depression outcomes in patients with major depressive disorder in primary care.
  • Professor Sarah Medland (The Council of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research) who will receive $1.37 million to examine how we can improve the performance of pharmacogenomics in Australia.
  • Associate Professor Janice Fullerton (Neuroscience Research Australia) who will receive $1 million to investigate the pharmacogenomic signatures of bipolar disorder for improving treatment outcomes.
  • Doctor Kathy Wu (St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney) who will receive $2.95 million to conduct trial of genotype-guided versus standard psychotropic therapy in moderately-to-severely depressed patients.

These new research grants will help more effectively treat those who might need medication with options that are best suited to them, and will ensure that we continue to provide the best possible mental health care for all Australians, now and in the future.

Through record investments in mental health services and support, with expenditure estimated to be $5.2 billion this year alone, the Australian Government continues to demonstrate its firm commitment to the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians

Anyone experiencing distress can seek immediate advice and support through Beyond Blue (1300 224 636), Lifeline (13 11 14), Kids Helpline (1800 55 1800), or the Government’s digital mental health gateway, Head to Health.

Ministers: