Epidemiology & Population Health


Identifying risk and resilience for mental disorders


Our Research

Our research program aims to identify the developmental trajectories of risk and protective factors for a range of adverse mental health and other outcomes in childhood, adolescence and adulthood, using longitudinal population data. We adopt a multidisciplinary approach, which sees collaboration among experts in mental health, criminology, child protection and education to achieve the broad research aims. Our methods provide a unique opportunity to determine developmental risk profiles among the general population, as well as protective factors operating throughout the life-span, for a range of low prevalence mental disorders (such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder) or other outcomes (such as common mental disorders, criminal behaviour and suicide).

Current Projects

We have several research projects embedded within a longitudinal record linkage study known as the NSW Child Development Study (NSW-CDS). This study comprises a state-wide population cohort of 87,026 children who were assessed with the Australian Early Development Census (AEDC) as they started school in 2009 (age 5 years). Using repeated waves of intergenerational record linkage, the study combines cross-sectional assessments of the cohort at key developmental stages (i.e., age 5 years; age 11 years) with administrative records from multiple government departments (Health, Family and Community Services, Education and Justice) for children and their parents. With these comprehensive linked records over the first 25 years of life, we will attempt to identify vulnerability and protective factors for a wide range of health, educational/vocational, social and wellbeing outcomes that are likely to make their appearance in adolescence and early adulthood. The results will be useful to schools, governments, and other organisations to inform policy developments and influence community-based action to maximise resilience and build mental capacity during critical years of development. In future years the NSW-CDS will continue to provide much needed information to improve the mental health and wellbeing of Australian children, as they develop into adulthood.

We describe sub-projects within the NSW-CDS according to our funding sources, as follows:


The Life-Course Blood Pressure Cognition (LCBP-COG) study

The LCBP-COG study will provide us with a better understanding of the ways that high blood pressure can increase the risk of cognitive decline or dementia over the lifecourse.

ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research

The ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research (CEPAR) is a unique collaboration bringing together academia, government and industry to address one of the major social challenges of the twenty first century. Based at the University of New South Wales with nodes at the Australian National University, The University of Melbourne, The University of Sydney and The University of Western Australia, CEPAR is producing world-class research on population ageing. CEPAR includes cross-disciplinary experts drawn from actuarial science, demography, economics, epidemiology, psychology and sociology. The Centre’s diverse research program which will deliver comprehensive outcomes with the potential to secure Australia’s future as a well-informed nation with world-best policy and practice for an ageing demographic.

Professor Anstey and Professor Mike Keane lead the CEPAR research stream concerned with decision making, expectations and cognitive ageing.

This research stream aims to:

  • Develop a comprehensive model of ageing and decision making including identification of typologies of decision makers
  • Develop multidisciplinary paradigms and predictive models of decision making and ageing
  • Develop and evaluate interventions to increase positive expectations about ageing
  • Develop life-cycle models that incorporate investments in health and housing as well as cognitive limitations in ageing.

For more information on CEPAR visit the centre website.

CEPAR has been funded primarily by the Australian Research Council, with generous support from the collaborating universities and partner organisations.

The Dementia Risk Factors and Assessment (DemRisk) program

The Dementia Risk Factors and Assessment (DemRisk) program involves over ten years of research performed by the Anstey group on the identification and assessment of risk factors for Dementia.

The DemRisk program includes:

  • Systematic reviews and meta-analyses of dementia risk and protective factors
  • Analysis of cohort studies to identify dementia risk and protective factors
  • Development of evidence-based interventions for dementia risk reduction
  • Development of innovative e-learning resources to support dementia risk reduction
  • Development of risk assessment tools validated for assessing individual exposure to risk factors known to be associated with an increased risk of developing dementia
  • Development of guidelines (e.g. physical activity guidelines) to reduce risk of cognitive decline and dementia in collaboration with other researchers and organisations including the World Health Organisation
  • Training of early career researchers with a focus on identifying and targeting dementia risk

Read Professor Kaarin Anstey and Dr Ruth Peters’ recent invited commentary on second-hand smoke as an under-recognised risk factor for cognitive decline here. You can also watch Professor Anstey’s NeuRAtalk on ageing well to reduce your risk of dementia here.

Cognitive training correlates

Investigation of the correlates of brain training based on data from a National Health survey.

World Heath Organisation (WHO) Guidelines for the reducing the risk of cognitive decline and dementi

Systematic review of reviews were conducted to synthesize the available evidence for interventions for risk factors associated with cognitive declines and dementia. This research was used to inform WHO guideline development.

NSW Child Development Study

This project established the NSW-CDS and aims to identify vulnerability and resilience factors emerging from birth to 11 years of age, that relate to the development of mental illness and other adverse outcomes in adolescence and adulthood.

Identifying new targets for primary school mental health interventions using population data

Embedded within the NSW-CDS, this project evaluates the extent to which existing school-based mental health promotion and early intervention programs modify the expression of risk profiles for psychotic, mood, and behavioural disorders in middle childhood at an individual and population level.

Determinants of risk and resilience in multi-agency administrative records: A population record-linkage study.

Embedded within the NSW Child Development Study, this project aims to determine dynamic ‘risk’ and ‘resilience’ states in maltreated children at ages 5 and 11 years, and the likelihood of transition between these states over time, in the context of other risk and protective factors.

Targeting early contact with the criminal justice system in young people

Embedded within the NSW Child Development Study, this project aims to identify early life risk factors, developmental mediators and outcomes associated with criminal justice system contact for young people.

The intergenerational transmission of criminal offending behaviours

Embedded within the NSW Child Development Study, this project examines the prevalence and correlates of behavioural problems among children born to parents with and without criminal offending histories.

Latent profiles of child psychopathology and mental health disorder in adolescence: A prospective population-based record linkage study

Embedded within the NSW Child Development Study, this project will provide critical information for the identification of timely targets for preventive intervention early in the course of mental illness.

What else is happening in Epidemiology & Population Health research at NeuRA?