UNSW Canberra Professor Helen Dickinson will be a chief investigator on a major project aimed at improving mental health outcomes for young people with disability.

The five-year project was made possible through a $5 million National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Synergy Grant.

It will be led by Professor Anne Kavanagh from the University of Melbourne.

Professor Dickinson, who is also the Director of the Public Service Research Group, said the project aims to develop a suite of evidence-based policy and practice interventions for youth with disability.

“Young Australians with disability experience social and economic disadvantage and poorer mental health at much higher rates than their non-disabled peers,” Professor Dickinson said.

“In partnership with young people with disability, we will develop policy and practice interventions that offer better opportunities for young people with disability to acquire the resources to flourish and support positive mental health across the lifespan.”

Professor Dickinson’s role will include working with a wide range of stakeholders, including young people with disability, their families, advocacy groups, policy makers, services providers and the media.

This will be used to inform modelling, which will identify the most effective interventions.

“I will then work with colleagues to help disseminate the evidence-based policy and practice interventions,” Professor Dickinson said.

She said there was an urgent need for information to help build effective and targeted programs that provide opportunities for young people with disability to flourish as adults in an inclusive society.  

“The impacts of COVID-19 will make it disproportionally difficult for Australian youth with disability to emerge into adulthood,” Professor Dickinson said.

“There are significant investments being made in initiatives that improve outcomes for people with disability, such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme, but these will not be realised without greater attention being paid to youth with disability transitioning into adulthood.”

The Synergy Grant scheme, introduced in 2019, supports collaborative teams of diverse researchers to work together to address major problems in areas of human health and medical research.

NHMRC CEO Professor Anne Kelso said “the projects funded today are exciting examples of what is possible when different disciplines and perspectives are brought together to solve a problem”.