Australians have some of the highest rates of unhealthy habits in the world, including excessive eating, drinking, gambling, and recreational drug use. These habits are making us stressed and unhappy, and contributing to poor physical and mental health.
Breaking a habit is hard. Beating major compulsive problems, like addictions or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), is even harder. Eighty per cent of people who need help don’t get it, and 80 per cent of those who do seek help relapse within a year.
“Our current solutions aren’t good enough: many are difficult to access, many are ineffective. And there’s a huge amount of stigma attached,” says Dr Rebecca Segrave, Deputy Director of Monash University’s new BrainPark facility.
At BrainPark, world-leading scientists and health professionals are combining new technologies and lifestyle-based treatments to empower people to change their own brains and create healthy habits.
Current projects involve developing gamified digital assessment tools that map the psychological drivers of habits, addictions and OCD, and a world-first clinical trial of physical exercise to restore brain health in long-term, heavy cannabis users.
“There is a rich emerging literature showing physical exercise can result in different brain and mental health changes, but we don’t know what kind of exercise for what outcome, or at what dose,” Rebecca says.
Another approach being researched is therapeutic virtual reality. A person with OCD can be ‘exposed’ to an increasingly contaminated environment while their stress response is measured, and a therapist works with them to manage it.
They can also investigate responses to virtual gambling scenarios, testing both therapeutic and policy initiatives in a way that wouldn’t be feasible in real life.
From the spin room with floor-to-ceiling immersive screens that let you cycle the Tour de France, to the yoga studio, custom cognitive training pods, and native plant garden for mindful practices, every aspect has been carefully designed to make people feel welcome and engaged.
The adjacent Monash Biomedical Imaging facilities bring cutting-edge neuroscience to the program, and the network of public health and industry partners are helping fast-track the research into public use.
The David Winston Turner Endowment Fund invested $2.2 million towards BrainPark, further supported by $1.15m from Monash University.
Banner image: BrainPark incorporates virtual reality into treatment. Credit: BrainPark