New translation scholarships, a boost for mental health and autistic children

A project designed to raise awareness of the relationship between the arts and mental health and a digital tool to address anxiety issues in children with autism has been boosted with support from the Western Australian Future Health Research and Innovation Fund (FHRIF), which is an initiative of the Western Australian State Government.

Senior Researcher at the University of Western Australia’s School of Allied Health, Dr Christina Davies, has been awarded the FHRIF Translation Fellowship to continue leading arts and health research through a campaigning, programs and multi-sectoral professional development to increase awareness of the arts-mental health relationship.

“Mental health issues are on the rise, but there is strong evidence that, just like sport, practicing the arts can improve mental well-being,” Dr Davies said. “Whether it’s listening to music, reading a novel, watching a movie, or painting, 20 minutes of art a day can be good for your mental health.”

The FHRIF project translates Dr. Davies Award-winning Healthway-funded doctoral research that quantified the relationship between the arts and mental health and highlights the health benefits of the arts, including increased happiness, confidence, self-esteem, relaxation and reduction of social isolation.

Community members can submit nominations to get involved, or receive updates on the project, by visiting the UWA Good Arts Good Mental Health website.”

Image: Dr Christina Davies (left) and Dr Gail Alvares.

Dr. Gail Alvares, an autism researcher at the Telethon Kids Institute and UWA, has been awarded an FHRIF Translation Fellowship to lead an innovative mental health project, which will aim to transform early intervention for anxiety in children diagnosed with autism and their families.

Dr Alvares, whose recent research has called for the term “high-functioning autism” to be dropped, said mental health issues such as anxiety frequently co-occur with autism and that for many people, crippling anxiety symptoms were experienced during childhood.

She said this project aims to develop, in partnership with the autism community, a world’s first digital mental health platform for autistic children with anxiety, which would help break down some of the barriers that young people are faced in accessing mental health care in Australia.

“Childhood anxiety has a significant impact on well-being and quality of life, may limit participation in education and employment opportunities, and may be associated with depression,” said the Dr. Alvares, Senior Researcher at Telethon Kids’ CliniKids.

“Over 40% of children diagnosed with autism experience debilitating anxiety, but often these families struggle to get the support they need due to a lack of accessible and affordable service providers.

“People with autism and their families repeatedly rank research on reducing anxiety and improving mental health outcomes as the most urgent priority, and this project directly addresses the community-informed need. “

Dr Alvares said the digital tool would allow caregivers to develop strategies to reduce their child’s anxiety that could be as effective as in-person care.

“Digital technology represents a unique solution to barriers to accessing health care, due to its accessibility, cost-effectiveness and wide presence in daily life,” Dr. Alvares said.

“This intervention will directly address anxiety issues during a critical developmental period, alleviate the demand for in-person mental health professionals, and diffuse the burden on the WA health system.”

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