$1.3m grant to expand award-winning substance use education and support program for adolescents

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday

Researchers from Monash University, RMIT and the University of Canberra – led by Professor Dan Lubman – have been awarded a Medical Research Future Fund grant to expand an education and support program for adolescents.

The program has been shown to improve help-seeking among adolescents facing mental health and/or substance use issues.

The Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler, recently announced the $1.3 million grant, which will fund the next stage of development for the school-based intervention MAKINGtheLINK. A partnership with Turning Point, Headspace, the Alcohol & Drug Foundation, the Victorian Department of Education, and the Australian Secondary Principals Association helps facilitate the program.

The award-winning program is designed to be delivered by teachers using proven behaviour change models to build vital knowledge about mental health and substance use and give students the practical skills to support their peers to seek help.

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Proven links between mental health issues and substance use

Research reveals that early alcohol or drug use can be an indication of underlying mental health concerns and also that mental health and substance use issues commonly co-occur.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data shows that substance use and mental health are leading burdens of disease for Australians aged 15 to 24.

“We know that almost one in 10 Australians between 16 and 24 are struggling with a substance use disorder,” says Professor Lubman, who is director of both Turning Point and the Monash Addiction Research Centre.

“And mid-adolescence is a key developmental stage to identify emerging problems and build the skills that these young people need to seek help.”

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Reducing stigma is vital

The grant follows a large randomised controlled trial of MAKINGtheLINK in schools, which found that students who received the program were more likely to seek professional help and report a reduction in stigmatising attitudes.

“Since our program equips young people with the knowledge and skills needed to help their friends, we are also finding that these skills facilitate their own help-seeking behaviour,” Professor Lubman says.

Researchers are encouraging Australian secondary schools to take part in the project and will be actively recruiting schools in the coming months. Interested schools are invited to contact Turning Point or Project Manager Jodie Matar directly at jodie.matar@monash.edu

Young people less likely to talk about alcohol or drug concerns

Turning Point is a national treatment, research and education centre — affiliated with Monash University – that provides leadership in the alcohol and drug, gambling and mental health sectors in Victoria and beyond.

It combines innovative research in the clinical, population health and policy fields, and assists services, communities and the Victorian government and national agencies to respond to current and emerging alcohol and drug and gambling issues.

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The grant will fund the creation of a scalable digital adaption of the original program that if found to be effective could be rolled out at secondary schools across Australia to support earlier intervention for mental health and/or substance use issues among adolescents.

While young people are often willing to seek professional help for depression, they are more likely to speak to their friends for advice about alcohol and other drug problems.

“Our challenge is that the peers they go to for help don’t have the necessary knowledge, confidence and skills to effectively intervene,” Professor Lubman says.

“Friends are highly influential during adolescence, so young people are ideally positioned to act as ‘gate-keepers’ to mental health services.”

If this story has raised issues about your own or others drug and alcohol use, please contact Counselling Online for free confidential counselling or call the National Alcohol and Other Drug Hotline on 1800 250 015.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]brandx.live