Business Alumni Update | 2015

Sansom Institute's Professor Nicholas Procter

Wide-ranging research into suicide prevention and intervention

Professor Nicholas Procter

Alumnus and Chair, Mental Health Nursing and Substance Use Research Group, Sansom Institute, University of South Australia

UniSA’s Mental Health Nursing and Substance Use Research Group at the Sansom Institute is conducting pivotal research into consumer focused mental health in Australia. Chaired by UniSA alumnus Professor Nicholas Procter, the group’s research has influenced the Australian and state governments to change policies about suicide prevention and intervention, and trauma informed practice. Nicholas’ person-centred and service delivery approach is about making life better for people with a mental health condition, the people who care for them professionally and their family members. With reported mental health conditions and suicide unfortunately on the rise in Australia, continuing research into mental health is crucial now more than ever.

As the Chair of the Mental Health Nursing team at the Sansom Institute, Professor Nicholas Procter is not only the leading mind, but he is also the brains behind the position even existing.

“I did my MBA at UniSA and as students we were asked to create a business case to address a key issue in society related to our current employment. I wrote a case arguing the need for this Chair position and not only did I pass the assignment, but academic staff members at UniSA approached the Minister’s Office, who then funded the position. I applied for the role through an international recruitment search and was successful.”

The evolution of the modern and technical world has changed the contributing factors for suicide.

“Some experts have hypothesised that the rise in suicide can be attributed to negotiating an online world and online environment. Bullying on social media is now a factor as you can never escape from it, it follows you home, and can be deeply personal and very hurtful,” notes Nicholas.

Nicholas and his team are producing a series of videos and publications to help patients, their families and practitioners relate to people experiencing similar situations, and help towards reducing their stress, isolation, emotional pain and suffering.

Social media is only one aspect in a wide and tangible range of contributing factors for mental health conditions and suicide. There is a relationship between childhood trauma and trauma related conditions, and having a mental health condition later in life - particularly anxiety and depression.

Suicide is the leading cause of premature death in the asylum seeker population. Nicholas has a longstanding commitment to improving asylum seeker mental health and has researched and published widely on this topic. He recently contributed to an article in The Conversation about hunger strikes, suicide and self-harm which is a prevailing concern in these environments.

Nicholas has recently been appointed to the Minister’s Council for Asylum Seekers and Detention. The principal purpose of the Council is to ‘provide independent advice to the Minister on policies, processes, services and programs necessary to achieve the timely, fair and effective resolution of immigration status for people seeking migration outcomes in Australia.’

Nicholas and his group are working with others to lead state-wide initiative to help those living in rural areas, where suicide is three times higher than in urban locations.

“Access to services is much more challenging, particularly face to face treatment. Apart from the distance to health facilities, there are also issues and challenges with stigma. Our previous research findings have shown is that face to face communication and having an existing relationship, particularly in a country area, can be an important enabler to get people into mental health treatment despite the distance.”

UniSA’s Mental Health Nursing and Substance Use Research Group are trusted to provide real world outcomes, which is evident in the range of organisations that are contributing funding towards their research.

“We work collaboratively with what we call ‘mental health consumers,’ carers and service providers. We do it in such a way that there is tangible outcomes in policy, practice and service provision essentially,” says Nicholas.

“People trust us; they trust me and they trust this school to achieve valuable results with the funding provided to the university.”

Additional funding will significantly support Nicholas and his team’s research into suicide prevention, particularly understanding the impact of mental distress and suicide on parents and families.

“To achieve this we collaborate very closely with people who have a mental health condition, people who care for people with a mental health condition and people who manage services for mental health conditions."

“I’ve noticed that people are generally talking about mental health conditions more and at the same time there is some reduced stigma about mental illness, but there is still a long way to go."

“What I would really like to do is create a Research Fellowship for someone to do a sustained piece of work looking at suicide and particularly the impact on family and how we might minimise individual and family impact.”

To donate to this research and help the patients, their families and the health professionals navigate the challenging world of having mental health condition please visit: Support Health Research

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