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Past Projects

What Works?

Research into illicit drug use by mental health consumers aged 18-30: Raising awareness and changing behaviour through targeted promotion campaigns

NSWCAG worked in collaboration with the Mental Health Associations NSW (MHA), Mental Health Carers, ARAFMI (Association for the Relatives and Freinds of the Mentally Ill) NSW, and the University of Western Sydney to conduct research around cannabis use in young people who identify as having a mental illness. The "What Works?" Project.

The Project sought to understand what aspects of health promotion campaigns motivate young people with mental illness who use cannabis to cease or reduce use in order to inform the development of future campaigns. It asked the question "What Works?" in health promotion strategies to reduce cannabis use in young people who have a mental illness and who regurlarly use cannabis.

The Project involved focus groups with young people aged between 18 and 30 years old who had a mental illness and either had never used cannabis, were currently using cannabis, or who had used cannabis in the past and ceased use.  A literature review was undertaken to inform the project and to develop the focus group questions. Ten focus groups were then conducted involving 35 people. During the focus groups, the following topics were discussed:

  • present levels of knowledge, perceptions and behaviour regarding cannabis use
  • reasons for cannabis use where mental health problems were already experienced
  • what maintains use of cannabis
  • what has promted or might prompt cessation of cannabis use
  • suggestions for a health promotion campaign targeting young people with mental illness which aims to inform about the potentally problematic relationship between cannabis use and mental health
  • comment on a poster produce by the Australian Government as part of its National Drugs Campaign

The information gathered through the focus groups was grouped into themes to understand "What Works?". The outcomes of the project were written up and published in the report "What Works?" Report into cannabis use by young adults living with a mental illness"

To download the report click here .

"Flourish": A Recovery-Based Self-Development Program

"Flourish" is a new type of self-help program for people with long-term mental illness, developed by researchers at the Illawarra Institute for Mental Health at the University of Wollongong. In collaboration with NSWCAG, a trial of the program is now almost complete. The results so far have been very positive.

Flourish focuses on the positive and working towards the future, rather than focusing on problems. It is called a "self-development" program, because it is designed to enable people to take responsibility for making the positive changes they want to see in their lives. In that way, it encourages personal growth.

Flourish is based on the principles of the positive psychology movement, which advocates that more effort should be invested in studying what makes people thrive, rather than focusing solely on what makes things go wrong. The concept of "flourishing" holds that symptoms of mental illness do not preclude living a fulfilling and meaningful life, while absence of symptoms does not guarantee a flourishing life (Keyes, 2003).

While Flourish is sensitive to the unique problems that a person with serious mental illness faces, it acknowledges that everyone has a "core self" that strives to learn, grow and thrive. This core self is represented by a set of deeply held values that steer the person on their life journey. Flourish is designed to help people to tap into their core values and to move forward with a life that is meaningful to them.

The program is self-directed and comprises a Handbook, containing information and exercises that the person works through at home; an mp3 player with recordings which complement the material in the handbook; fortnightly peer-led discussion meetings; and reminder calls during the alternate fortnight. It has eight self-learning modules covering: recovery and "flourishing"; identifying my strengths and my values; life vision and goal planning; how positive emotions can help us to grow; how "mindfulness" can help us deal with anxiety; the process of change and overcoming resistance to change; and obtaining social support for goals.

The trial of the program is almost complete, with groups having been held in Wollongong, Nowra, Sydney and Gippsland (Vic). Thirty-eight people took part in the first round of the trial, while twenty-three people took part in the second round.

Positive outcomes...

The research has found that people who completed the program showed increases in psychological well-being in the areas of self acceptance, environmental mastery, and relationships with others; they had improved recovery outcomes in the areas of personal confidence and hope, goal orientation and trusting others and felt less dominated by their symptoms. They also reported lower levels of depression and anxiety than people who had been on a waiting list for the program.

"Just what is needed..."

Feedback received from those who have finished the program is that the positive focus was very welcome and "just what is needed." Interviews with some of the participants have shown that individual people gain more from different parts of the program. Some participants have said that the program had given them a structure that had helped them to make progress in getting on with their lives - something that is missing when they leave hospital. They felt they could continue to use the ideas in the Handbook after completing the course.

Below is an excerpt from an interview with a participant in the Flourish program:


Sara described her ‘light bulb' moment in the Flourish project as the module on ‘willingness to change and resistance to change'.  Before undertaking the Flourish project she describes life as a ‘constant cycle of negative energy and bad moods.'

‘Before Flourish I had literally got to the point where I just didn't care. I was just really withdrawn and depressed'

Sara had goals, but had no idea how to get there, and felt her life lacked direction. She was unable to recognise her barriers, her confidence was low and her internal thoughts and feelings about herself were very negative. She found herself putting up barriers to everything, which she just could not get through because she ‘just didn't know how.'

Breaking down some barriers took weeks but seeing written down on paper the things she was resisting made her realise how ‘ridiculous' they were and she couldn't believe how the ‘tiniest things were holding her back'. She describes this as a ‘massive change', which was challenging.

Although she still has bad days, she is now far more positive, can recognise her strengths and describes a ‘huge change' for the better in her interaction with other people.

The researchers are very pleased with the results so far, and are hoping to obtain funding to expand the program and to make materials available online in the future.

*Names have been changed.

The project is being coordinated from the Illawarra Institute for Mental Health at the University of Wollongong in conjunction with NSW Consumer Advisory Group-Mental Health Inc. The research is funded by the Australian Rotary Health Research Fund.


Keyes, Corey L. M., and Jonathan Haidt. 2003. Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well-Lived. Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

The National Standards for Mental Health Services Quilt


Please select a part of the quilt to view upclose.


Making sense of research

Making Sense of Research

NSWCAG collaborated with researchers from the University of Sydney, Sydney South West Area Mental Health Service and Northern Sydney Central Coast Health to develop a program called "Making sense of research."

NSWCAG ran five workshops in 2006. Forty-five people took part and the evaluations were very positive.

The workshops aimed to:

  1. Increase consumers' and carers' understanding of the way research is conducted in mental health settings.
  2. Provide consumers and carers with a basic knowledge of the role of research in evidence-based practice.

Questions covered by the workshops included:

  1. What is research?
  2. How does research help?
  3. What is evidence-based practice?
  4. What are the reasons to take a more active interest in research?
  5. What are the barriers to involvement?
  6. How is research conducted and why?
  7. What factors contribute to the ongoing success of research projects?

Count me in

Count me in!

What does good mental health mean to you? -
NSWCAG ran a postcard design competition for young people on this theme.

Finalists were displayed at the XPOZED III Youth Art Exhibition
during April 2007 at Dulwich High School of Visual Art and Design.

Click here to view the designs of the finalists.

The winners were announced at a presentation at Petersham Town Hall on 25th June 2007.

The winners are:
1st prize: Caleb Ionnidis
2nd prize: Kaytlin Taylor
Minor prizes: Kaytlin Taylor;
Thea McBeath
Johnny Nolan
Matide Martin
Andrijana Stankovska

The winning design has been made into a postcard.

Drug and Alcohol

An introduction to helping people with drug and alcohol and mental health problems.

During 2007 NSWCAG worked with the Research Unit, Rozelle Hospital and Consumer Consultants from Sydney South West Area Health Service to develop and trial a workshop for consumer workers and carers in the mental health sector titled: "An introduction to helping people with drug and alcohol and mental health problems."

The project was been funded by a Nursing & Midwifery Office, NSW Health Innovation Scholarship.

We decided to collaborate on this project because of an awareness that many consumers working in Consultant roles, as well as many carers either working in health services or in their day to day lives, come into contact with people who have drug and alcohol problems and well as mental health problems quite regularly. We were all aware that many of these people, however, rarely get any training about these two issues. From our own experiences, and the experiences of others we are in contact with, we knew that consumers and carers frequently feel uncertain about how to best support someone who has both a drug and alcohol problem and mental health problem.

The project:
We decided to find some funding to develop a workshop for consumers and carers providing information about drug and alcohol and mental health problems and a chance for people to talk together and share their knowledge about what they do to support people they work with who have drug and alcohol and mental health problems.

This introductory workshop to helping people with drug and alcohol and mental health problems aimed to provide information relevant to consumer workers and carers within the mental health sector, about drug and alcohol use by people with mental health problems to:

  • Assist in your day to day work of supporting others
  • Understand more about substance use by people with mental health problems
  • Understand some of the things that might happen for people you are working with who might have a substance use problem (that is, how are substance use problems identified, what are some of the common treatments?)
  • Look at their own attitudes about drug and alcohol use, as attitudes play an important part in how we go about supporting others

During May and June 2007 we held four workshops of "An introduction to helping people with drug and alcohol and mental health problems." Two of the workshops were held specifically with consumer workers or networks, and the other two workshops were open to anyone interested, and were held at the NSWCAG office space in William St Sydney.

An evaluation of the workshop content we had developed occurred as part of these four workshops. We received lots of useful input from the participants who came along, and have developed a modified version of the workshop, based on that feedback, to share through the NSWCAG website.

The people involved:
Dr Michelle Cleary, Sydney South West Area Mental Health Service
Dr Glenn Hunt, Sydney South West Area Mental Health Service
Dr Gillian Malins, NSW Consumer Advisory Group - Mental Health Inc .
Dr Nandi Siegfried, Senior Specialist, South African Cochrane Centre, Medical Research Council
Sandy Matheson, Sydney South West Area Mental Health Service
Phil Escott, Sydney South West Area Mental Health Service

Modified version of the workshop

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