Centre Achievements

Centre researcher secures $1.2m NHMRC funding to support mental health research

12 October 2023

The Life Course Centre congratulates Dr Alyssa Milton, Research Fellow at the University of Sydney, on being awarded targeted call for research funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) for research to improve the physical health of people living with mental illness.

People living with mental illness, particularly those experiencing severe mental illnesses, are more likely to develop comorbidities related to physical illness and be hospitalised for potentially preventable reasons. This has led to a growing need for research to inform how the physical health of people living with mental illness can be improved.

The NHMRC Targeted Call for Research – Improving Physical Health of People with a Mental Illness – aims to stimulate research that develops effective strategies to improve the health of people living with severe mental illness. Dr Milton’s project was one of three awarded in the latest round of NHMRC Targeted Call for Research funding. Her project will receive $1.2 million over five years to build and test a world-first peer-supported digital app (SiMPliCITy) that promotes self-care strategies to address the physical health needs of people with schizophrenia using mental health services.

“People with schizophrenia are dying 15–20 years younger than the general population due to poorer physical health,” Dr Milton said. “This project will address this stark health inequality by working directly with consumers and their supporters to understand barriers and solutions to this problem, then co-design, build and test a world-first peer-supported digital App (SiMPliCITy).”

Announcing the new funding, NHRMC CEO Professor Steve Wesselingh said: “People living with mental illness, particularly severe mental illness like schizophrenia, are more likely to develop poor physical health.” The three projects funded today focus on co-design and peer-support models to help people living with mental illness access effective health care services. The outcomes of this research will inform the development of policies, health services and models of care that effectively manage and support people with coexisting mental and physical health conditions.”

Dr Milton’s research team spans multiple universities and comprises psychiatrists, cardiovascular experts, sleep experts, dieticians, pain researchers as well as lived experience researchers and carers. The project will have a strong focus on implementation, program effectiveness and service delivery.

Her project research team also includes fellow Life Course Centre researchers, Professor Nick Glozier and Dr Parisa Vidafar. Dr Milton said she had received valuable capacity building support from the Centre in the lead-up to the successful NHMRC grant award. She said the project aligns with the Centre’s People research program, jointly led by her and Professor Glozier, as well as its Places research program.

“We are focussing on people, but this is also about place as it is really working with services to improve places of support for people experiencing serious mental ill health,” Dr Milton said. “We are also going to be delivering this in both youth and adult services – so it really does try take more of a life course approach to how services are delivering interventions.”