NICM & Blackmores Institute: PhD Scholarship in Mental Health

Studying an integrative lifestyle medicine model for treating depression

Clinical depression has a major impact on individuals and society, often presenting the clinician with a significant challenge. Evidence suggests that antidepressants - although effective in the treatment of severe depressed mood, may have only a weak effect against mild to moderate depression. Thereby in such cases non-pharmaceutical options may be indicated. Research concerning the self-management of depression often investigates the effect of individual lifestyle components; for instance examining how either increasing physical activity, or alternatively adopting a Mediterranean diet, can reduce depression. However, these types of investigations are incongruent with clinical reality. In reality, patients may benefit the most from a combination of lifestyle changes for managing depression i.e. simultaneously aiming to correct their diet, undertake regular exercise, improve sleep quality, and engage in self-management strategies such as mindfulness and meditation. However, little is known about the effectiveness of such combined lifestyle approaches for improving mental health.

About the project

The project will involve the design and study of an integrative model to treat depression (involving multiple aspects of lifestyle medicine). The study will be carried out in the NICM Clinic, Westmead, at the Western Sydney University. The full scope of the project will be determined in consultation with the supervisory panel and the selected candidate. The doctoral candidate, under the primary supervision of Professor Jerome Sarris, will learn relevant clinical trial research skills and develop a specialised understanding about the effect of an integrative model to treat depression.

Primary objective: To firstly conduct a literature review of the area and to engage with clinicians to determine a list of lifestyle interventions to treat depression; secondly to finalise a design to conduct a robust randomized, blinded, controlled study to test the efficacy and safety of an integrative approach and; thirdly to conduct this study, collecting the data and subsequently analyzing the data and publishing the results.

Role of the Parties: The NICM Health Research Institute based at Westmead (Western Sydney University) will recruit and supervise the doctoral candidate to carry out the research project. The candidate is expected to publish regularly throughout the candidature.

Supervisors: Professor Jerome Sarris (principal supervisor); Dr Joseph Firth (co-supervisor)

What does the scholarship provide?

  • Domestic candidates will receive a tax-free stipend of $35,000 per annum for up to three years to support living costs, supported by the Research Training Program (RTP) Fees Offset.
  • A successful applicant already receiving an RTP scholarship ($30,000) (or a successful applicant awarded an RTP scholarship after the application) will be provided a top-up of $5,000.
  • Additional funding of up to $40,000 over three years to conduct the research, including costs for: implementation of the project, conference presentations and travel, equipment, and open access publication. These funds will be determined on a needs basis, dependent upon the final research project.
  • Benefits and allowances, including: thesis printing allowance, relocation allowance, and Overseas Student Health Care (single policy), up to a maximum of $5,000.

Eligibility criteria

The successful applicant should:

  • hold qualifications and experience equal to a health science, psychology, or biomedical undergraduate degree, as well as either (i) an Australian Honours degree, or (ii) a coursework Masters with at least 25 per cent research component.
  • must have a strong academic track record (relative to opportunity), be self-motivated, have clinical experience in mental health populations, a friendly temperament and good communication skills.

A specific interest in mental health is desired. The project will be adjusted according to clinical focus and skills.

How to apply

1. Contact Professor Jerome Sarris ( in a new window) to discuss your eligibility, the project requirements and your intention to apply.

2. Complete the scholarship application form (PDF, 222.11 KB).(opens in a new window)

3. Compile your CV and contact information for two referees.

4. Ensure all documentation is certified according to Western Sydney University requirements.(opens in a new window)

5. All applications and supporting documentation must be submitted directly to the Graduate Research School as follows:

  • Use the email subject line: Application_2018_101_NICM
  • Submit to
  • All attached documents must be submitted as PDF.
  • In the body of your email, include your full name, your student ID (if you are a current or previous Western Sydney University student) and the full title of the scholarship.

Incomplete applications or applications that do not conform to the above requirements will not be considered.

Please contact the Graduate Research School via email at for more information.

View the NICM flyer (PDF, 3535.04 KB).(opens in a new window)

Applications close 26 August 2018

*Applications close at 11.59pm Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST).