Addressing chronic disease risk factors in people with mental illness

Project title: Community managed organisations: a potential role in addressing the chronic disease burden among people with mental illness

Start date: April 2019

Estimated end date: June 2021

What is the issue?

Few groups experience the burden of chronic disease more than people with mental illness. Worldwide, this high-risk population has a reduced life expectancy of 12 to 30 years. This inequity has a large impact on the overall chronic disease burden, with 45% of the Australian population experiencing mental illness in their lifetime.

There is an opportunity for mental health support services to address the chronic disease risk behaviours of their clients, including smoking, inadequate physical activity, harmful alcohol consumption and poor nutrition. This is recommended internationally, nationally and at state level, but the provision of such preventive care is consistently reported to be sub-optimal. We need to explore additional avenues to provide support to people with mental illness to change their health risk behaviours.

Community managed organisations (CMOs) could possibly help fill this gap as they already play an important role in the care of people with mental illness. CMOs are predominantly not-for-profit or non-government organisations providing support services that help keep people well in the community. There are more than 800 CMOs in Australia providing a diverse range of mental health rehabilitation and support services. We need research to understand what they are doing currently in preventive care, the feasibility or acceptability of CMOs providing preventive care, and the mechanisms that may support CMOs to do so systematically.

How is the project addressing the issue?

We are conducting a scoping and co-design study with CMOs that provide support to people with mental illness in NSW. This involves consumers, care providers and senior managers/executives to co-design a feasible model for the provision of preventive care in CMOs that can be adapted to the resource availability of different service contexts.

What are the expected outcomes?

  • A comprehensive picture of the preventive care that is currently being provided by CMOs, the potential barriers, facilitators to its provision, and the mechanisms that could be used to enhance the systematic provision of such care
  • A feasible, cost-effective model for the provision of preventive health care for people with mental illness who are receiving treatment through CMOs
  • The pilot testing of the model with one large state-wide CMO service during the final year of the project.

Relevance for practice

This project addresses the question of how community managed organisations (CMOs) can help reduce the inequitable burden of chronic disease experienced by people with mental illness; with findings relevant to the policy and practice of both government agencies and CMOs.

A feasible, cost-effective model for the provision of preventive health care for people with mental illness who are receiving treatment through CMOs will be identified, with relevance to CMOs nationally.


Project lead

Professor Jenny Bowman, University of Newcastle

Project team

Professor John Wiggers, University of Newcastle
Associate Professor Luke Wolfenden, University of Newcastle
Dr Kate Bartlem, University of Newcastle
Dr Tara Clinton-McHarg, University of Newcastle
Professor Andrew Searles, University of Newcastle
Professor Andrew Wilson, University of Sydney
Lauren Gibson, University of Newcastle, PhD candidate
Dr Magda Wilczynska, University of Newcastle
Dr Olivia Wynne, University of Newcastle

Advisory group

Mental Health Coordinating Council
NSW Mental Health Commission

Funding for this research has been provided from the Australian Government’s Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF). The MRFF provides funding to support health and medical research and innovation, with the objective of improving the health and wellbeing of Australians. MRFF funding has been provided to The Australian Prevention Partnership Centre under the MRFF Boosting Preventive Health Research Program. Further information on the MRFF is available at

  • A survey to identify current levels of preventive care support being provided to people with a mental health condition is underway with community managed organisations across NSW
  • The online survey was informed through key stakeholder review and comment
  • More than 50 organisations have completed the survey to date
  • The research team has interviewed people with a mental health condition to learn more about chronic disease preventive care at two NSW community managed organisations.
  • Consumers from additional CMOs will be recruited to complete further telephone interviews in early 2020
  • A survey for NSW CMO staff on chronic disease preventive care is in development for online delivery in early 2020
  • The results of the survey to identify preventive care support currently provided to people with a mental health condition in NSW CMOs have been presented at both a national and international conference. These findings will also be shared with survey participants in late 2019.



  • Bartlem K. Panellist, 2019 National Symposium on coexisting mental and physical health conditions, Mitchell Institute, Parliament House, Canberra, 15 October 2019.
  • Wynne O, Clinton-McHarg T, Wiggers J, Wolfenden L, Bartlem K, Searles A, Wilson A, Wilczynska M, Gibson L, Bowman J.The potential for community managed organisations to reduce inequity by connecting physical and mental health care. 11th Health Services and Policy Research Conference, Auckland, New Zealand, 4-6 December 2019.
  • Gibson L, Clinton-McHarg T, Wiggers J, Wolfenden L, Bartlem K, Searles A, Wilczynska M, Bowman J. The potential role of community managed organisations in reducing behavioural risk factors for cancer among people with a mental health condition. Hunter Cancer Research Alliance Symposium, Newcastle, Australia, 8 November 2019.