Prevention is better than a cure

NeuRA researchers believe the brain holds key information that can help people build mental resilience and avoid the worst effects of mental illness.

Your gift today will accelerate this ground-breaking research and give people the tools they need to keep their minds healthy.

NeuRA researchers believe the brain holds key information that can help people build mental resilience and avoid the worst effects of mental illness.

Your gift today will accelerate this ground-breaking research and give people the tools they need to keep their minds healthy.

Have you ever seen a large gum tree fall? These iconic Australian trees can grow up to 100 metres, so when they fall, they can wipe out houses, cars – anything in their path.

What’s interesting is that many of these trees fail because no one thinks to properly care for them. People buy a home, or move into a new area, and think ‘that’s always been there, it’ll be fine’, not noticing that the tree has become unhealthy over time or that growth is happening in the wrong places. It can take years for a tree of this size to fall but when it does, it often spells disaster.

It can be like this with mental health. We often don’t notice the cracks that are appearing in the emotional health of our friends, our family – or even in ourselves – until those cracks have turned into a serious problem. We often fail to think about the small things that could help our minds ‘grow’ in the right direction.

This has never been more relevant than during this time of coronavirus when stress, loneliness and fear continue to grip the hearts and minds of many ordinary Australians.

No doubt, you would have seen organisations asking for support to help people manage or treat mental health problems – some which could have been caused or worsened by the crisis. And this is important work.

But what if there were a way to prevent mental illness from happening in the first place?

NeuRA researcher Dr Justine Gatt believes the brain holds key information that can help people build mental resilience and avoid the worst effects of mental illness. Her research, which tackles this question from both a psychological and neuroscientific point of view, is in a league of its own.

Dr Gatt’s research into mental resilience is unique because it not only looks at how the brain responds to stress and the patterns that can lead to someone experiencing mental illness, it also studies the underlying neural and genetic mechanisms that contribute to people having resilience to stress and adversity. That is – people who experience the same stressors that can lead to mental illness but whose brains instead respond with resilience.

When translated into practical programs, this research has the potential to change the way people’s brains respond when they face significant stress and to build lasting mental resilience.

If you are in a position to give today, your support would enable Dr Gatt to accelerate this research and develop tools that people need to keep their minds healthy.

Insights from Dr Gatt’s research are already being used by Sydney-based healthcare trainer Mary Mulcahy, who teaches mental wellbeing to front-line hospital staff working in emergency and general health areas.

Working with Dr Gatt, Mary has been able to adapt her program to target the way people’s brains respond to stress, empowering them to make changes to build lasting resilience.

“It’s all about wellbeing,” says Mary. “We know that whether or not hospital staff feel well and feel supported has a direct influence on the quality of care that’s provided to patients.

“There’s less chance of accidents and errors happening when nurses and doctors feel well and cared for.”

This is something Prince of Wales Hospital emergency department nurse Ally Jeffers echoes, after having relied on Mary’s support as she led her team through the peak of coronavirus earlier this year.

“I think the biggest challenge was fear,” Ally recalls of this time. “Fear amongst the staff, fear in the community. Because I had a leadership position there … I had to manage my emotions and appear calm to help everybody else calm down.”

As well as fearing how they would manage the virus and keep themselves and their families safe, Ally says medical staff had to also cope with constant changes to how they did their work – adding to the pressure everyone was already facing.

Mary’s support during this time helped Ally and her team build resilience, while giving them long-term strategies to keep them emotionally healthy.

What’s important to realise is that building resilience in the healthcare sector is only one example of where Dr Gatt’s research could make a difference. Both Dr Gatt and I see the potential for this research to truly reshape the way our communities respond to stress and adversity and to prevent mental illness before it even begins to take hold of people’s lives.

In the future, other critical professions – first-responders and emergency services such as police, fire services and ambulance officers – could adopt these practices in their workplaces and homes, building mental resilience to improve their wellbeing, and helping to keep their colleagues and communities safe.

While Australians continue to face the emotional impact and trauma from the coronavirus and economic crises, the ambition to protect the people we love from the lasting and debilitating effects of mental illness is an admirable one.

If you’re in a position to give, please make a kind donation to help fund this vital research and to support Dr Gatt and her team to launch more programs as quickly as possible.

The recent crises – coronavirus and the bushfires before that – have highlighted many vulnerabilities in our society that need our attention, including mental illness. As the reality of Australia’s economic crisis reaches more communities, the impact on people close to us will amplify the need for preventative research into mental health.

I believe that protecting ourselves, our families and our communities against mental illness, by seeking to prevent it rather than just trying to cure it, could be a game changer for everyone.

I hope I can count on your support.

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