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:


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?


The cold case of schizophrenia - broken wide open!

‘It is like they were miraculously healed!’’ Schizophrenia is diagnosed by clinical observation of behaviour and speech. This is why NeuRA researchers are working hard to understand the biological basis of the illness. Through hours of work and in collaboration with doctors and scientists here and around the world, NeuRA has made an amazing breakthrough. For the first time, researchers have discovered the presence of antibodies in the brains of people who lived with schizophrenia. Having found these antibodies, it has led NeuRA researchers to ask two questions. What are they doing there? What should we do about the antibodies– help or remove them? This is a key breakthrough. Imagine if we are treating schizophrenia all wrong! It is early days, but can you imagine the treatment implications if we’ve identified a new biological basis for the disease? It could completely change the way schizophrenia is managed, creating new treatments that will protect the brain. More than this, could we be on the verge of discovering a ‘curable’ form of schizophrenia? How you can help We are so grateful for your loyal support of schizophrenia research in Australia, and today I ask if you will consider a gift today. Or, to provide greater confidence, consider becoming a Discovery Partner by making a monthly commitment. We believe there is great potential to explore these findings. Will you help move today’s breakthrough into tomorrow’s cure? To read more about this breakthrough, click ‘read the full story’ below. You are also invited to read ‘Beth’s story’, whose sweet son Marcus lived with schizophrenia, by clicking here.