Mental and substance use disorders, two of Australia’s most burdensome health conditions, are most likely to develop before 25 years of age. Effective prevention can significantly reduce disease burden by delaying or halting the onset or progression of these disorders, and school-based programs look to be a promising delivery method. As national leaders in school-based prevention programs for mental health and substance use, researchers from the University of Sydney’s Matilda Centre for Research in Mental Health and Substance Use (the Matilda Centre) will be showcasing their innovative work through a feature symposium at the upcoming 2019 Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs (APSAD) Conference on Wednesday 13 November in Hobart.
The symposium will be chaired by the Matilda Centre’s Associate Professor Cath Chapman and features five presenters whose research focuses on prevention in early to late adolescence.
Siobhan Lawler, a PhD candidate at the Matilda Centre, will explore the developmental relationship between adolescent alcohol use and aggression. Her study uses longitudinal data from the Climate and Preventure (CAP) study conducted between
2012-2015 with 2,190 Australian school students. “We know that through no fault of their own young people can become entrenched in complex webs of disadvantage,” says Siobhan. “I’m particularly interested to see how we can use research to change the pathways for vulnerable young people.”
Dr Katrina Champion will present the Health4Life Inititiave, an eHealth program that empowers adolescents to improve their physical and mental health to reduce their risk of chronic disease later in life. “Although most young people are free of chronic disease, far fewer are free of the risk factors,” says Dr Champion. “Education and prevention are critical for equipping young people with the knowledge and skills needed to lead healthy lives in adolescence and beyond.”
Dr Mieke Snijder will showcase the development of Strong & Deadly Futures, an Australia-first school-based alcohol and drug prevention program developed with and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous secondary school students and teachers. “Consultations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have identified a lack of available, evidence-based and culturally appropriate drug and alcohol prevention resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth,” says Dr Snijder. “Our computer-based program emphasises cultural strengths to empower students to cope with psychological distress.”
Dr Erin Kelly will outline results from Preventure, a personality targeted smoking prevention program for secondary school students. “Findings from the trial were extremely positive,” says Dr Kelly. “Students in schools assigned to the control condition were twice as likely to smoke at post-intervention than students in schools who undertook the Preventure program. Students in the Preventure program were also three times less likely to smoke frequently at 12-months. This shows great promise for delivering personality-targeted prevention programs to young people.”
Jennifer Debenham, a PhD candidate at the Matilda Centre, will present the Illicit Project; a cutting-edge harm-minimisation intervention that integrates new knowledge about neuroscience into an education program for older adolescents. “The brains of young people are highly neuroplastic, which presents both risk and opportunity,” says Jennifer. "So that we can play to the strengths of the growing brain and prevent substance-related harm, we need to look beneath the surface to better understand the neural changes occurring and how substances can interfere with this process.”