University of Sydney receives grant for mental health tech trial

The University of Sydney has obtained an AU$3.4 million ($2.5 million) grant from the federal government’s Clinical Trials Cohorts Studies scheme to try out a new model of care for young people in the early stages of mental health problems.


In a press release, the university said its Brain Mind Centre collaborated with Orygen, Deakin University the University of Notre Dame for the five-year Youth Model of Care trial that will commence “early next year.”

The trial will involve around 1,500 young people currently enrolled in a mental health service seeking treatment for mood disorders.

It will provide participating clinicians access to a digital platform that includes detailed assessment measures, longitudinal tracking interactivity, combining measurement-based care real-time health care.

Functional outcomes of the new care model will be assessed tested against present standardised care.


According to the University of Sydney, the trial will address two “significant” gaps in mental health care: the need for providing “highly” personalised care resolving the more complex multi-domain level of functioning of youth with mood disorders.

Functioning, in this instance, pertains to social, emotional organisational skills. The focus on such veers from the traditional symptoms-based care as the latter could lead to “misdiagnosis, missed opportunities for care to people dropping out of care”, according to Ian Hickie, professor academic co-director of the BMC Youth Mental Health Technology stream.


Based on the government non-profit headspace’s research in 2020, the rates of psychological distress were elevated among Australian youth, with one in three of over 1,000 surveyed reporting “high” or “very high” levels of distress. The survey, conducted between May June last year, found that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the ability of young people aged 12-25 to carry out daily activities.

In a presentation in September last year, Jo-An Atkinson, head of systems modelling at BMC, noted that there will be projected increases in youth mental-health-related emergencies by 26%, self-harm hospitalisations by 28% suicide deaths by 30% over the next five years.

She added that the estimated cumulative cost of lost productivity related to psychological distress, hospitalisations suicide will be around AU$114 billion ($85.5 billion) by 2025, with AU$11.3 billion ($8.5 billion) in lost productivity among the youth population.

The BMC’s trial is one of the 30 trials funded by the Clinical Trials Cohorts Studies Grants under the National Health Medical Research Council.


“This study is an opportunity to test if a personalised health care package, combined with digitally supported, measurement-based care could become an essential tool for clinicians, a model for Australia’s mental healthcare system,” Prof. Hickie said.

“We have an opportunity to bring mental health care beyond the treatment of a checklist of symptoms. That approach has allowed too many young people to fall through the cracks,” he also said.

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