NeuRA Magazine #30

HOW MENTAL HEALTH RESEARCH IS BRINGING HOPE TO AUSTRALIANS

Growing up in the small Sydney suburb of Oatley, Camille Wilson grew up with access to opportunities with the support of a loving family. From the outside, you would see a high achiever on course towards a bright future. But under the surface there was a young woman plagued by anxiety, who was self-harming and contemplating suicide. 

As a teenager, Camille felt completely isolated and that there was little point to life. For the most part, these dark thoughts and feelings were hidden from her family – until her first suicide attempt at the age of 16. This led her to seek treatment. “I didn’t know what kind of treatment was best for me and the whole process was trial and error. Unfortunately, I was prescribed an array of anxiety medications that all came with side effects – from mild nausea to violent, suicidal thoughts,” Camille said. Worryingly, Camille’s symptoms worsened. During her mid-twenties, Camille was overwhelmed by intrusive thoughts and regularly hospitalised due to panic attacks and anxiety-induced vertigo. “I felt like I’d hit rock bottom and had to get real help. I started seeing a psychologist and psychiatrist to help me understand the cause of my anxiety and find effective treatments in managing these symptoms.” During this time Camille stopped working and her parents took care of her. It was at this stage that she began talking more openly about her mental illnesses with friends and family members. This experience transformed Camille’s life. Through effective treatment, she has taken charge of her life and today is a successful human resources professional and is also studying a Masters in Brain Science.

“One of my great hopes is that more research into conditions like anxiety and depression will mean that a new generation of young women will benefit from treatments that weren’t available a decade ago.”

Camille is passionate about mental health research and advocates to improve awareness about the challenges facing many Australians. “When I was younger, a lack of varied treatments and limited community awareness held me back. I could have sought effective treatment earlier but I didn’t know how to do this at the time,” Camille said. “One of my great hopes is that more research into conditions like anxiety and depression will mean that a new generation of young women will benefit from treatments that weren’t available a decade ago.” “I’m getting behind Colour Your Hair for Mental Health because mental illness doesn’t discriminate. If there’s more research, there will be more treatment options for young people who may feel ashamed about what they’re experiencing and might not know where to turn for help in their hardest moments.”

She is also hopeful that research will help break down the stigma that still surrounds mental health disorders. Colour Your Hair for Mental Health is raising funds for life-changing mental health research into illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia, anxiety and bipolar disorder.

 

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Cortical activity during balance tasks in ageing and clinical groups using functional near-infrared spectroscopy

Prof Stephen Lord, Dr Jasmine Menant Walking is not automatic and requires attention and brain processing to maintain balance and prevent falling over. Brain structure and function deteriorate with ageing and neurodegenerative disorders, in turn impacting both cognitive and motor functions.   This series of studies will investigate: How do age and/or disease- associated declines in cognitive functions affect balance control? How is this further impacted by psychological, physiological and medical factors (eg. fear, pain, medications)? How does the brain control these balance tasks?     Approach The experiments involve experimental paradigms that challenge cognitive functions of interest (eg.visuo-spatial working memory, inhibitory function). I use functional near-infrared spectroscopy to study activation in superficial cortical regions of interest (eg. prefrontal cortex, supplementary motor area…). The studies involve young and older people as well as clinical groups (eg.Parkinson’s disease).   Studies Cortical activity during stepping and gait adaptability tasks Effects of age, posture and task condition on cortical activity during reaction time tasks Influence of balance challenge and concern about falling on brain activity during walking Influence of lower limb pain/discomfort on brain activity during stepping   This research will greatly improve our understanding of the interactions between brain capacity, functions and balance control across ageing and diseases, psychological, physiological and medical factors, allows to identify targets for rehabilitation. It will also help identifying whether exercise-based interventions improve neural efficiency for enhanced balance control.
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