Meet Professor Frances Kay-Lambkin

Following the recent launch of the Mindframe for Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) guidelines this week, the Mindframe team would like to share a short interview with Professor Frances Kay-Lambkin.

The Mindframe for Alcohol and Other Drugs guidelines were developed following an extensive review of the evidence, including a thematic analysis of qualitative content from consultation with advisory groups.

As part of the AOD guidelines development process, Everymind partnered with the University of Newcastle (UoN) to conduct a review of the evidence on media reporting of AOD issue’s which involved a UoN research team conducting a rapid review of the evidence.

The purpose of the review was to summarise the media reporting of AOD use worldwide in order to examine the impact of media portrayals of AOD use on stigma and AOD behaviours.

Professor Kay-Lambkin led the research team, which identified the impact of media portrayals and was then used to develop and present recommendations on how media reporting of AOD can support and maximise public health benefits.

Frances Kay-Lambkin is a Professor in Psychiatry at the University of Newcastle, and is a psychologist by background.

Her time is spent designing and testing new psychological treatments for mental health and substance use problems, which involves thinking about how to make these programs and treatments helpful and useful for people outside of my research trials.

Frances works with Everymind as a research consultant, to develop and test ways of putting what we learn in research studies into practice across the Australian and international community.

What led you to enter research?

I really like solving problems and coming up with new ways to solve problems and this is what I get to do every day in research. New questions, new understandings, talking with people from all walks of life to understand and work with them to solve problems. I then get to test whether those ideas and solutions actually do what we think they will… it’s a full circle type activity.

Can you provide a brief overview of your research?

My passion is to ensure that every Australian can access support for mental health and alcohol and other drug use problems whenever and wherever they need it. At the moment, I am focussing on using technology to help me realise this by building and testing apps, websites, and other technologies to help take programs and treatment to where people are – rather than waiting for them to come to our treatment centres. I’ve started to do this for depression, alcohol and other drug use, tobacco use, sleep problems, diet/exercise issues, crystal methamphetamine, and support programs for family and friends affected by a loved one’s mental health or substance use problem.

In your opinion, why is it important to communicate safely about AOD?

The evidence tells us that what we see and what we read influences our attitudes and behaviours. This is especially true for alcohol and other drug use. For example, if we see reports about an ‘epidemic’ or ‘dramatic increases in drug use’, we often then think that most people are using drugs and it can almost ‘normalise’ it. So, we might then think it’s normal to try that drug, as we are just joining in with most other people. In reality, most people don’t use drugs, but that often doesn’t make it into the things we see and read about AOD.

Another example is when we see people portrayed as dangerous, violent criminals when they are using drugs. Again, whilst this does happen, it is at the very end of the severity spectrum of use, and is displayed by only a small proportion of people who use drugs. This can have a couple of effects:

  1. It can make us not trust the source of that portrayal of the person using drugs because it won’t fit with our personal experience of someone using drugs, which can lead to us downplaying other information coming from that same source about other effects of drugs that are in fact more common, which is dangerous and;
  2. It can create strong stigmatising attitudes about people who use drugs and their families, which makes getting help even more difficult.

How would you best explain the process of translating research into practice?

This is a really important step. The reason I do research is to try to make things better for people living with and supporting others with mental health and alcohol and other drug use problems. But often when we get funded to do research, we don’t get any funding to support rolling it out and making our treatments and programs available once the study is finished. That’s what ‘translation into practice’ is. It’s taking what we learn from our research trials in our research laboratories, and making those learnings available to people in the ‘real world’.

It can take many forms from partnerships with mental health and alcohol and other drug services, partnerships with people experiencing the conditions we are studying (and their family members and friends), partnerships with government and non-government stakeholders, to try to understand what barriers and enablers there are to making our research learnings available to everyone over the longer term.

What role does media play in shaping public attitudes and beliefs about AOD?

Media really can control the conversations we are having about AOD. The media can influence treatment seeking by creating confidence that AOD problems can be treated effectively. The media can influence community attitudes about AOD use away from fear and discrimination and towards compassion and understanding. The media can educate the community about AOD harms and ways to reduce the harms. The media can influence policy and funding of services and initiatives by shining a light on where the gaps are and what is needed to close those gaps. The media is an extremely powerful and important partner in responding to AOD use problems.

View the Mindframe Alcohol and Other Drugs Advisory group on the Mindframe website.

To learn more about the project or to get involved, please email us or call on (02) 4924 69400.

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