Grants: NHMRC to fund Science's refugee mental health research

Scientia Professor Richard Bryant
Wednesday, 11 October, 2017
Deborah Smith

UNSW psychologists Scientia Professor Richard Bryant and Dr Angela Nickerson have been awarded major grants from the National Health and Medical Research Council to help improve the mental health of refugees.

Professor Bryant received a NHMRC-EU Collaborative Research Grant worth $499,989 for work on responsive mental health systems amidst the Syrian refugee crisis.

Dr Nickerson received a Career Development Fellowship worth $431,000 to improve understanding and treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in refugees.

Overall, UNSW was awarded $19.2 million for 36 projects or fellowships funded by the NHMRC to commence in 2018, with a further $1.63 million via UNSW’s affiliate The George Institute.

This included $2.5 million for UNSW to lead the PREMISE Centre of Research Excellence, a collaborative initiative that brings together five universities to develop innovative, evidence-based prevention and early intervention for substance use and mental disorders applicable to all young Australians.

UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Nicholas Fisk congratulated the recipients.

“These early and mid-career researchers have been recognised for their outstanding ability and dedication to investigating problems that if solved, will benefit the health of Australians and people around the world,” Professor Fisk said.

“Our early career researchers did particularly well with a 44% success rate, the highest in the Group of Eight.”

Dr Angela Nickerson

Dr Nickerson’s project will investigate core psychological mechanisms that underpin PTSD in refugees and develop a targeted intervention to reduce symptoms.

“Ultimately this research will advance knowledge about refugee mental health and inform best-practice clinical care for refugees,” she said.

NHMRC Career Development Fellowships aim to help early-mid career researchers to establish themselves as self-directed independent investigators.

Last year, Professor Bryant, who is a world expert in the mental health of people affected by adversity and trauma, received Australia’s highest accolade in the year’s Queen’s birthday honours when he was named Companion in the Order of Australia (AC).

Professor Bryant is Director of the Traumatic Stress Clinic, which he established at Westmead Hospital more than 30 years ago when relatively little was known about post-traumatic stress.

His research includes working with Indigenous partners to develop better evidence for more culturally appropriate ways to develop resilience in Indigenous communities in Australia.

At an international level, he works with agencies such as the WHO and UNHCR to develop affordable mental health care for those living in countries deeply affected by trauma, including those in refugee camps in in Jordan and Lebanon.

It was also recently announced that he will be a recipient of the Association for Psychological Science’s James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award for 2018, which honours scientists for a lifetime of significant intellectual achievements in applied psychology research and impact on critical problems in society.

The award will be presented in San Francisco next May.