Can mental health outcomes be improved if we allow those who use our mental health services design them?

Dr Kaaren Mathias, a senior lecturer at the University of Canterbury and a public health physician, has been granted $109,557 by the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation (CMRF) to investigate just that, with a research project titled – How do tangata whaiora (those in mental distress) and local communities co-design mental health services?

Dr Mathias says for decades professionals have designed mental health services with a “one-size-fits-all” approach that has not met the needs of people with mental distress (tangata whaiora).

“There are so many negative stories about mental health, but there are all sorts of strengths in communities that we can build on to improve mental health care. I’m fascinated in how resources already within communities can be used to promote mental health.”

Mental health has always been of interest to Dr Mathias. She completed her PhD in Sweden in 2016, looking at mental health in communities. She also completed significant research in India, where she worked for 15 years in remote rural communities and low-income urban slums. She returned to New Zealand in 2020 when COVID hit.

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Her latest research will see her team talk with people who use and deliver mental health care and people in the local communities on the West Coast and Canterbury.

“We’re hoping to find examples of great participation of people with lived experiences and say to other communities ‘why don’t you take a leaf or two out of their book?’”

Dr Mathias is eager to start the 18-month research project in early 2023.

“I’m particularly excited that the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation has given this funding to qualitative research, which has typically been less of a priority. You can get some really important messages from the texture and nuances of people’s voices when you research through storytelling.”

Dr Mathias is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Canterbury and a training programme supervisor for the NZ College Public Health Medicine. Dr Mathias has a PhD in Epidemiology/Global Health.

More information can be found here.

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