Mental Health Promotion

Mental Health Promotion


Professor Helen Herrman


A/Prof Jane Burns, Michelle Blanchard, Dr Kaveh Monshat


The aims of the Youth Mental Health Promotion Unit are to:

  • Investigate the promotion of mental health in adolescents and young adults through public health and social interventions that influence the broader social determinants of mental health (including social connections, freedom from discrimination and violence, and community participation), especially in the new setting of information and communication technologies
  • Understand the best ways to engage the government, corporate, philanthropic, not-for-profit and community sectors in promoting mental health

The Youth Mental Health Promotion Unit was established in 2008 as a partnership with the Inspire Foundation. Inspire is a national non-profit organisation with the mission to help millions of young people lead happier lives. Their two national programs ReachOut and ActNow are designed to improve the mental health and wellbeing of young people aged 14–25 years.

A focus for the collaborative work of the Youth Mental Health Promotion Unit is the role of information communication technology (ICT) in improving mental health and wellbeing.

Current Research Projects

Bridging the Digital Divide: giving young people at risk opportunities to get connected (A/Prof Jane Burns).

The work began at Inspire and continued in the context of the establishment of the Youth Mental Health Promotion Unit, funded by VicHealth. The study investigates the role of ICT in young people’s identity formation, skill development and social relationships, and the supposed digital divide created by lack of access to ICT. Focus groups and semi-structured interviews were conducted with marginalised young people and professionals working with them. Both groups also completed a demographic survey and an audit of their ICT access and skills. A Project Advisory Group and Youth Reference Group helped refine the study design and research tools. The study reports extensive use of the internet and the implications for how to promote civic engagement among young people experiencing marginalisation.

Understanding the use of information communication technology by professionals to improve young people’s mental health and wellbeing (Michelle Blanchard). 

This project was developed in light of the above findings, and aims to understand the way in which health care professionals who work with young people use information communication technology in their practice. The protocol has been developed, ethics approval received and data collection under way (75% completed). Conference presentations include Australian and New Zealand Adolescent Health Conference and Making Links.

Effectiveness of an internet-based intervention designed to promote mental health and prevent common mental disorders in young people (Dr Kaveh Monshat).

This project tests an innovative internet-based intervention designed to promote positive mental health and prevent common mental disorders in young people through improved resilience, coping skills and social and occupational function.Literature reviews and protocol development have been initiated,.
The role of information and communication technologies in promoting positive mental health in marginalised young people.

The aim is to support leadership in development of a research collaboration of academics, practitioners and young people that will focus on four groups of young people at risk, identify gaps in evidence and define one or more projects that include preventive interventions and online program evaluation for which the collaboration will seek support. Applications are being developed for funding to University of Melbourne and ARC.
Assessing youth health and quality of life online.This joint project with Professor Jeff Richardson, Monash University Centre for Health Economics, is assessing the use of the PsyQoL and other instruments in a longitudinal study of young people recruited from Inspire’s ActNow site, using repeated measures of QOL and mental health. This project is funded by an NHMRC Project Grant on benefit measurement for health economic evaluation (HH CI), and will define instruments suitable for use in future studies. Ethics approval has been received and data collection is ready to commence.
Impact of youth participation on mental health and wellbeing.

The aim is to study the practice of youth participation, about which there is little consensus despite its growing adoption as a concept by Australian organisations. Work has begun within Inspire to train peer researchers and define a peer-led evaluation framework and indicators of the effect of participation on the individual young person, the organisation and the community.

Other applications:

  • The role of ICT in promoting civic participation.
  • A longitudinal study of ActNow users

Improving mental health outcomes in high risk young adults through an internet-based intervention.

An application for support from the US National Institute for Mental Health was developed with Johns Hopkins University, the Youth Mental Health Promotion Unit at Orygen Youth Health, the Brain & Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney and Inspire USA, to study whether and how ReachOut promotes positive mental health in young people at risk for depression and suicide.