New research approach to mental health issues

November 19, 2002

In March 2003, a major national symposium will address crucial issues in the mental health of Australians.

"The Rotary Mental Health Symposium will have some unique characteristics," said Dr Michael Sawyer, Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at South Australia's University of Adelaide and Convenor of the Symposium. "It will bring together four different groups to find the best ways to identify new knowledge which can then be used to improve the mental health of Australians."

The four groups are Researchers, Clinicians, Consumers/Carers and Funders, and Professor Sawyer believes that the structure of the symposium will establish new ways of approaching priorities in research funding for mental health.

"All around the world, funding bodies grapple with this issue of accountability," said Professor Sawyer. "Each of these four groups has a different perspective on mental health research."

"Researchers value scientific excellence, while funders are concerned about accountability and the proper use of the research support that they provide. Clinicians want research to provide practical findings useful in clinical settings, while consumers and carers need research relevant to their needs."

"In the past, dialogue across these four groups has been limited," said Professor Sawyer. "We believe that we can be more effective, especially in community-based interventions, if the views of these four groups are better integrated in the research process."

The burden of mental illness in the community affects one in five Australians throughout their lives. In 2000, the Australian Rotary Health Research Fund began a five-year relationship with the community by holding public forums on mental health, working to enhance the understanding of mental illness and seeking to remove the stigma currently attached to it.

The Fund, in conjunction with local Rotary Clubs, has now held over 150 community forums around Australia, attracting an audience of over 20,000 people to date, and it will sponsor and host the Mental Health Symposium in Canberra from 19th to 21st March, 2003.

"There is a close relationship between the work of the Australian Rotary Health Research Fund and that of beyondblue, the national depression initiative," said Professor Sawyer. "The Fund's mental health advocacy programs also receive strong support from the Federal government," he said.

The symposium is expected to produce specific recommendations that will be used by the Fund's Board to determine funding priorities for new research into important areas of mental health, and the amounts involved are considerable.

"With $850,000 allocated for research funding in 2003, the results from the symposium will ensure that continues for at least another 3 years," said Ms Joy Gillett, Manager of the Rotary Health Research Fund. "The Board originally pledged to spend $5 million dollars on research in mental illness over a 5 year period. That pledge will be met, so the expenditure over 2004 and 2005 will increase," said Ms Gillett. " I imagine that our funding in mental health will continue past the 5 year time. There is no plan at the moment to stop it".

Prof. Michael Sawyer, University of Adelaide, Phone: +61 8 8161 7207; fax: +61-8-8161-6906; email:

Ms. Joy Gillett, Australian Rotary Health Research Fund Phone: +61-2-9633-4888; fax : +61-2-9635-5042; email:

To receive advance emailed releases about the forthcoming Mental Health Symposium, send an email to with the subject heading SYMPOSIUM.

University of Adelaide

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