Modern telecommunications and ancient therapies could offer new hope to sufferers of depression and Bipolar Disorder.
Mobile phones, meditation and acupuncture are being investigated as aids in the treatment of the debilitating conditions.
Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon recently announced that the Black Dog Institute (BDI), which is an affiliate of UNSW's Faculty of Medicine, will receive $1.88 million in funding to develop a system that will allow sufferers of depression to track their condition using mobile phones and the internet.
The system will help people track their wellbeing in areas including mood, appetite, sleep, medication, physical activity and drug and alcohol use.
"Information is fed back to the users on how they are going, and alerts are sent when things aren't going well, along with links to appropriate self-help tools," says Senior Research Fellow Judy Proudfoot, from UNSW's School of Psychiatry, who is the lead researcher on the project.
BDI, in conjunction with UNSW and the University of Sydney, has also launched a major new study into the efficacy of laser acupuncture as a credible treatment for depression
Low level (therapeutic) laser acupuncture has been used in Australia to treat depression since the 1970s. Despite numerous studies suggesting acupuncture has a role in the alleviation of depression, there has been little scientific evidence to determine its efficacy, compared with medications currently prescribed.
The study, which will be led by Dr Im Quah-Smith, who carried out a pilot study in 2002, aims to answer those questions.
"The results of the pilot were promising. Persisting alleviation of mild to moderate depressive symptoms was demonstrated following an eight-week course of laser acupuncture," says Dr Quah- Smith.
Researchers at the BDI and UNSW have also launched a world-first trial of alternative therapies such as meditation and cognitive behaviour therapy as a way of assisting sufferers of Bipolar Disorder.
"Mindfulness has been shown to improve symptoms and reduce the incidence of relapse for depression," says Professor Philip Mitchell, Head of UNSW's School of Psychiatry. "We think it is very likely to minimise relapse rates in Bipolar Disorder as these are often triggered by stress and anxiety."
The trial has been funded with a $60,000 grant from Rotary.
For more information on these studies, or to register your interest in taking part, visit the Black Dog Institute.
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