I am a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and psychologist at the Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use, working within the Early Intervention and Treatment stream. My research focuses on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and substance use in young people. Currently I work as the project coordinator on the COPE-A study. I joined the COPE-A team when I moved to Sydney after completing my Masters and PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of Melbourne, where I was focusing on relationships between trauma and psychosis.
The COPE-A study, The COPE-A study (Concurrent Treatment of PTSD and Substance Use Disorders Using Prolonged Exposure – Adolescents), led by Professor Katherine Mills, is a randomised controlled trial investigating the efficacy of an integrated cognitive behavioural therapy for co-occurring PTSD and substance use disorders in adolescents aged 12-25. Young people who have experienced trauma and suffer from PTSD can struggle with debilitating symptoms such as:
These young people can often develop problematic substance use as a way of coping with these difficult experiences.
Although PTSD and substance use disorders commonly co-occur, very little research has investigated treatments addressing both disorders at the same time in adolescents. Early intervention for these young people is extremely important in preventing these conditions from developing into chronic, relapsing conditions in adulthood
There are many things I love about my job. It is a pleasure to work at the Matilda Centre, which is an incredibly supportive and encouraging environment, where people are always enthusiastic about collaborating and sharing ideas.
It is wonderful to be part of the COPE-A team and work with a group of researchers and psychologists who have such rich and varied knowledge and expertise, and so much care and concern for the young people we work with.
I’ve always been passionate about the wellbeing of young people, having worked with children and youth in different neighbourhood and community settings over the years.
Young people have enormous potential, and no matter what background they are from, can show so much energy, idealism, and sincerity. But they are often faced with a lot of pressure and significant challenges in life. I was always struck by how much capacity young people have if they are given the right opportunities and exposure to environments that bring out their inherent abilities.
When we invest in young people and their wellbeing it benefits not just them, but communities as a whole.
Jennifer Debenham is a PhD candidate at the Matilda Centre. Her research aims to unite and empower young people to engage in positive health behaviours around alcohol and drug use through a brain-based drug education program, known as ‘The Illicit Project’.
Researchers at the Matilda Centre conducted a needs assessment to help us better understand and address the unmet needs of people with problematic alcohol use and comorbid depression when making decisions about early intervention and treatments.