Monash University puts focus on mental health of students, staff

Monash University is developing an Australian-first digital resource to help students and staff identify when they are at risk of mental health problems, and how to seek appropriate help.

The platform - ‘Thrive’ - is being developed by the University’s Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health, led by Turner Director and Head of the School of Psychology, Professor Kim Cornish, and is based on a similar platform developed by Harvard University for use with clinical populations.

The digital resource will initially be a portal that can be accessed by all Australian Monash students and staff, where they can find appropriate resources and interventions to improve mental health and well-being.

Eventually, a smartphone app will track a person’s mental health through activity on their phone, including sleep patterns and activity levels, will act as a screener and direct individuals to the most appropriate resource within the portal. It will also be capable of delivering particular interventions on the spot.

After the Australian pilot is completed, the initiative will be rolled out across Monash’s global footprint and to the entire Monash community.

It will be able to provide regular pop-up alerts asking how the person is going, and provide general information on Monash resources that can provide assistance, including counselling services, exercise programs at Monash Sport, peer support and other programs.

The app will be co-designed with, and tailored to, different student groups, including domestic, international and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) students.

Professor Cornish said there was a growing need for practical resources to tackle mental health in the community, including the university sector.

“A big part is using the Thrive app to track in real time how people are doing and look at fluctuations across weeks, across semesters, because we know that mental health doesn’t remain constant or stable across semesters,” she said.

“And we have to be smart about how we deploy these digital interventions into people’s pockets based on that information, so you need that tool to give you those fine-grained insights.

“A ‘Future Without Change’ in this space could result in more stressed out students, more chances of non-success, of suicide, of depression, anxiety, of feelings of failure that go on throughout the years.

“We really are focussed on the early intervention and maintenance of brain and mental health when students come in.

“If that end bit can be prevented in even a few students then it’s worth everything.”

The portal and app are being developed in consultation with a broad range of Monash experts and services, including the Chief Medical Officer, head of BehaviourWorks, student representative groups and students.

The portal will be piloted in a two-month study with students at the Clayton campus in early 2020, with a large-scale, multi-campus pilot study of the app to follow.  Thrive will eventually be implemented across Monash international campuses and community.

Professor Cornish says the Turner Institute will continue working with Harvard and drawing on their learnings and expertise when developing and refining Thrive.

“We want Monash to be seen as changing things for the good and supporting students and staff, and ensuring this resource is a templar for really good practice,” she said.

Monash has a range of support services available to students and staff, including free counselling services for students at all campuses, and a confidential 24/7 Employee Assistance Program for staff.

To learn more about the work Monash is doing in the mental health space, watch the latest episode of A Different Lens.

To learn more about the impacts of mental health and what needs to be done on a Victorian and national scale, read our expert story on Lens.