Centre of Research Excellence in Mental Health and Substance Use: Translating innovative prevention and treatment

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Date Commenced:
Expected Date of Completion:
Project Supporters:

National Health and Medical Research Council

Project Members: 
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Ph EA Jasmin Bartlett: 02 9385 0167 / j.bartlett@unsw.edu.au
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Senior Res Fellow (NH&MRC)
Ph +612 9385 0253
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Conjoint Associate Professor
Ph 02 4985 4309
image - 1314679218 Catherine Chapman 05 0
Senior Research Fellow
Ph 02 9385 0317
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Associate Professor
Ph 9385 0267
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Ph EA Jemma Sale: 02 9385 0292 / j.sale@unsw.edu.au
image - 1314150220 Joanne Ross 06
Senior Lecturer
Ph 9385 0333
image - 1314158526 Wendy Swift 013
Senior Lecturer
Ph 9385 0333
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Conjoint Senior Lecturer
Ph 9385 0279
image - 1314149452 Emma Barrett 010
Senior Research Fellow
Ph 02 9385 0164
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Research Fellow
Ph 02 9385 0155
image - 1333429602 Matthew Sunderland 280
Senior Lecturer
Ph 02 9385 0333
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Senior Lecturer
Ph 02 9385 0422
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Senior Lecturer
Ph 02 89361131
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Ph +61 (2) 8936 1010
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Visiting Fellow
Ph +612 49854305
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Dr Tonelle Handley
Research Fellow
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Clinical Psychologist
Ph 02 8936 1238
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NHMRC Early Career Research Fellow
Ph 02 9385 0333
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Research Officer
Ph 9385 0326
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Postdoctoral Research Fellow & Project Coordinator
Ph 02 8936 1009
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Postdoctoral Fellow
Ph 02 9385 0333
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Short-Term Employee
Ph 02 8936 1172
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Miss Natasha Nair
Research Assistant
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Research Officer
Ph 02 8936 1243
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Research Assistant
Ph +61 (2) 9385 0320
Project Main Description: 

Mental health and substance use disorders account for more years of life lost due to disability than any other disorders. These disorders often occur together (comorbidity), affecting more than 300,000 Australians every year. Despite the significance of these conditions, the evidence surrounding the effective prevention and treatment of co-occuring disorders is weak. Our Centre of Research Excellence (CRE) in Mental Health and Substance Use aims to build much needed research capacity in this area.

The CRE is not a singular project, rather it incorporates many projects.

Project Collaborators: External: 

Professor Amanda Baker (University of Newcastle)

Professor Paul Haber (Royal Prince Alfred hospital)

Associate Professor Andrew Baillie (Macquarie University)

Professor Helen Christensen (UNSW)

Professor Max Birchwood (University of Birmingham, UK)

Professor Bonnie Spring (Northwestern University, USA)

Professor Kathleen Brady (Medical University of South Carolina, USA)

Ms Leonie Manns (consumer advocate)

Mr Trevor Hazell (Hunter Institute of Mental Health)

Professor Robyn Richmond (UNSW)

Professor Brian Kelly (University of Newcastle)

Dr Brian Hitsman (Northwestern University, USA)

A/Prof Leanne Hides (Queensland University of Technology)

Dr Pete Kelly (University of Wollongong)

Dr Glenys Dore (University of Sydney)

Dr Ali Beck (University of Newcastle)

Jenny Geddes (University of Newcastle)

Miriam Forbes(Macquarie University)

Warren Logge (Macquarie University)

Mikki Subotic (Macquarie University) 

Kris Tulloch (Macquarie University)

Dr Erica Crome (Macquarie University)

Dr Kirsten Morley (Sydney University)


Mental and substance use disorders account for more years of life lost due to disability than any other disorders (24% of burden) and are second only to cardiovascular disease and cancer as leading causes of disease burden. In young Australians (15-24 years) the top 10 causes of burden of disease are dominated by mental and substance use disorders. Every year alcohol and drugs conservatively cost the Australian community $23.5 billion. Comorbidity is common with 25-50% of people experiencing more than one disorder. Once both mental and substance use disorders have been established the relationship between them is one of mutual influence with both conditions serving to maintain or exacerbate the other. Such comorbidity leads to poor treatment outcomes and severe illness course. In the longer term, mental disorders and substance use disorders are themselves associated with increased rates of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Average life expectancy is 20-30 years shorter among people with mental or substance use disorders compared to those without such problems, with the last 10 years of life spent living with chronic illnesses. Despite significant public concern leading to a major government initiative (National Comorbidity Initiative) comorbid mental health and substance use disorders remain a major cause of disability among young people and, in the longer-term, are associated with poor quality of life and early mortality at the end of life.

Comorbid mental health and substance use disorders are one of health’s most significant challenges. The prevention and treatment evidence base is weak, limited by traditional single disorder models and treatment silos. This CRE will be a world first, breaking down the single disorder silos, generating significant new prevention and treatment research, ensuring effective and sustainable transfer of research knowledge and mentor future research leaders in this area of significant need.


The CRE aims to generate new research to increase the knowledge base regarding the effective prevention and treatment to comorbid mental health and substance use disorders.

Furthermore, in addition to making the finding of our research available in the scientific literature, an intregal component of this CRE is the translation of these research findings into educational curricula, training programs and clinical resources, as well as resoruces for the general public.

Design and Method: 

These aims will be achieved via three research streams focusing on the preventiontreatment, and epidemiology of comorbid mental health and substance use disorders.


In 2015, the CREMS had over 70 staff and affiliated members, including 13 PhD students. No less than 29 significant research projects were underway in the areas of prevention (led by Dr Nicola Newton), treatment (led by A/Prof Katherine Mills), epidemiology (led by A/Prof Tim Slade) and translation (led by A/Prof Kay-Lambkin). The research highlights of these areas are contained in the year in review sections for each of these staff.


In 2015, more than 70 peer reviewed papers were published, including several systematic reviews. Our annual conference was held in Canberra, and major workshops and webinars held in conjunction with other conferences throughout the year.  Another major avenue of dissemination was our website and social media with over 30,000 page views, over2000 twitters followers, and close to 300 followers on Facebook. Impressively, staff of CREMS were the recipients of several major national and international awards reflecting their outstanding innovation and impact.

You can view publications and resources on the CRE website.


This CRE is the largest concentration of internationally recognised comorbidity researchers worldwide, creating the potential for major gains in the prevention and treatment. The CRE will provide the opportunity for researchers currently working in diagnostic silos (addiction, depression, anxiety and psychosis) to share skills, innovations in treatment and research approaches, synergise data collection and establish collaborative data bases.

This CRE will focus on prevention and treatment and will:

  1. generate innovative research and
  2. enhance existing research trials for these common and highly disabling comorbidities.

The CRE will enable the field to move from treatment silos to everyday practice and single focus to multiple behaviour change.

Research into treatment will provide new treatments and resources  for the estimated 300,000 Australians currently living with comorbid mental health and substance use disorders, as well as improve the quality of life and mortality of those with the disorders themselves.

Research into and dissemination of prevention strategies will work to reduce the numbers of young Australians transitioning to adulthood with disabilities or vocational, educational and social harms as a consequence of mental health and substance use disorders. 

Project Status: