A project to raise awareness of the relationship between the arts and mental health and a digital tool to respond to the anxiety problems of autistic children have been boosted thanks to the support of the Western Australia’s 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 arts-mental health relationship and highlights the health benefits of the arts in particular increases happiness, confidence, self-esteem, relaxation and reduces social isolation.
Community members can designate 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 search called for the term “high-functioning autism” to be dropped, said mental health issues such as anxiety frequently co-occur with autism, and for many people, crippling anxiety symptoms are 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’ CliniKidssaid.
“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.”