Donor impact: Gateways in mental health

Bridging the gap between research and impact in mental health

Monash Life | Thriving communities | 2 minute read

What’s the key to taking research out into the world? Philanthropy.

Just how does great scientific research get translated into real-world impact? With difficulty, says Professor Kim Cornish, founding director of the Turner Institute for Brain and Mental Health. “You can do incredible research and get published in renowned journals, but then you hit a brick wall, because you can’t get the funding to take it further. That’s the beauty of philanthropy: it bridges that gap and provides a unique opportunity to make a real impact.”

The Turner Institute was established in 2019 as the result of a generous gift from the David Winston Turner Endowment Fund – established by the late David W. Turner, a proud Monash alumnus who left generous provision in his will to support mental health conditions. Researchers focus on the best ways to detect and prevent brain and mental health problems, and through a network of community clinics, translate research into programs for all to access.

The need for action is huge. Official data from 2018 showed that one in five Australian adults were suffering from some form of mental health issue.

“Since then, and accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, my understanding is that we are closer to one in four Australians,” says Anne-Marie Gasbarro, Partner at McKean Park Lawyers and co-trustee of the David Winston Turner Endowment Fund. “In reality, I expect it is even greater than that, given the reluctance of many to seek help due to the stigma associated with many mental health conditions.

The need for a dedicated institute focusing on laboratory-based specific research into mental health and brain development has never been greater than it is now."

“David Turner was a man before his time. He wanted those suffering from mental health issues to have the confidence – without fear of stigma – to seek and have available to them the same resources and care available to persons suffering other illnesses.”

Central to that vision are the nine new Turner Community Clinics, the cornerstone of which, says Cornish, is Brain Park – a personalised clinic and research facility located within the Monash Technology Precinct that uses lifestyle and tech-based interventions to help people dial down on compulsive behaviour such as drug and alcohol abuse, and gambling.

“For years, the underlying assumption was that exercise helped your mood, but there was never any real proof of that,” says Cornish. “Now, the work at Brain Park is showing that there is a massively strong link. It’s helping to move people away from a dependence on medication and clinical services, and instead uses a whole range of incredible lifestyle and technology-based interventions.”

And this is just the beginning. Cornish is now planning the next step: a living lab which will design resources and interventions that can make a real difference to the people who live in areas where family violence, suicide and drug addiction are high.

“If someone asks me what philanthropy can do, the Institute is my answer. It’s a critical gateway for discovery science to make a meaningful and enduring impact in your community. It can change lives.”

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