Anxiety and depression are the common mental heath issues, while sleep disturbance is now the 4th most common mental health disorder reported by 12-24 year olds. Addiction disorders are also an increasing problem, with millions of Australians and their families struggling with a range of substance use disorders.
Through the use of novel technologies – including phone apps, virtual reality and social robots – we are developing ways to promote healthy habits and strengthen cognitive function for long-term health and wellbeing.
At BrainPark we are leading the way with the development of evidence-based lifestyle interventions to combat unhealthy behaviours, such as addiction and OCD, and enhance overall mental health.
We are also working in partnership with industry to develop solutions to tackle serious workplace safety issues, such alertness and fatigue in shift workers, driver drowsiness on our roads, and suicide prevention in high-risk occupations and industries.
Strengthening self control through exercise and cognitive training
Around 2 per cent of people – over 500,000 Australians - experience obsessive compulsive disorders each year. Compulsive disorders are typically associated with the inability to refrain from engaging in specific behavioural or cognitive urges, but are also believed to be more prevalent in individuals who show high levels of self-monitoring.
Research being undertaken at BrainPark is adopting a novel approach of combined physical and cognitive training to target compulsive behaviours. We are exploring whether the combination of physical activity and cognitive training can improve self-control in individuals with mild-moderate obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviours.
Addressing the environmental causes of sleep disturbances
Inadequate sleep is believed to impact over one third of Australian adults, with strong links between poor sleep and mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety.
We are conducting research on the effects of artificial light on our brains and physiology. Our research has found that artificial light disrupts our circadian rhythm, disturbing our sleep cycles and contributing to chronic health issues. Using novel sensor technology, we are advancing our understanding of how the body’s circadian clock perceives light, unlocking the potential for this to be used in the treatment of depression and sleep disorders.
Making decisions for a healthy lifestyle
People living with different kinds of addiction often make decisions that are based on seeking immediate reward, which can lead to long-term negative health, social and economic consequences and cause enormous suffering to patients, families and communities.
We are uncovering the cognitive and neural mechanisms that underpin decision-making, which has important implications for substance and behavioural addictions. Not only are theoretical advancements in this area helping to better identify risk, but they are also enabling the development of new targeted interventions and treatments based around cognitive training to assist with impulse control and overcoming addiction.