Growing up, Professor Daniel Bressington hoped to become an archaeologist or a forensic pathologist.
After finishing school though, he steered away from study, before finding his way back, only to discover an interest in nursing, and eventually a passion for mental health.
Dan shares his academic and career journey with us, as well as his current role at CDU’s Darwin Campus.
Where did your passion for mental health come from?
Two main things happened that made me realise that good mental health is central to all aspects of health and well-being. Firstly, I was doing my clinical placement on a children’s ward in King’s College Hospital in London. One of the young people required an essential blood test but had a needle phobia. Her fear resulted in her avoiding most of her treatment, to the detriment of her condition. I assisted a very skilled nurse to help the girl work through her fears and eventually accept the test without much distress. The second issue was that I saw several friends developed mental health and substance use problems that had devastating effects on their lives.
Describe your career so far.
After qualifying from the Nightingale Institute, King’s College London as a Registered Mental Health Nurse, I worked on the Psychosis Unit at the Bethlem Royal Hospital in London. I remained there for about seven years, rising through the ranks to Senior Clinical Charge Nurse. I then started working (on secondment) as a Research Nurse and as a Tutor-Practitioner at the Institute of Psychiatry. I moved into a full-time academic role as Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at Canterbury Christ Church University (UK) in the mid 2000s. Then I moved to The Hong Kong Polytechnic University as an Assistant Professor in 2014, progressing to Associate Professor, before moving to CDU as Professor in Mental Health this year.
Why did you decide to pursue academia?
I describe myself as an “accidental academic”. I never regarded myself as an academic success. So, I didn’t set out to do it, I just fell into it!
I think it was because I had an excellent mentor (Prof. Richard Gray) who took me under his wing shortly after I qualified. He showed me that nurses can be great researchers and work well with internationally renowned Professors from different disciplines, such as Psychiatry and Psychology. I realised that nurse academics can make a real difference to people’s lives far beyond the excellent one-to-one nursing they do.
Describe your PHD.
It was a collection of different studies looking at treatment adherence in people with severe mental illness, and medication management training for clinical staff to improve service users’ experiences of treatment and promote their recovery. Most of this work was conducted in Hong Kong, the medication management training was subsequently widely adopted by mental health services over there.
What have you been doing in Hong Kong?
I have been working on several research programmes, most of which are ongoing. One programme is related to understanding and improving the physical health of people diagnosed with severe mental illness. I have also been testing different psychosocial interventions that aim to improve mental health in people with psychosis and their informal carers. Additionally, I am working with Hong Kong colleagues to evaluate the outcomes of programmes to improve mental health literacy and reduce stigma.
How do you feel about coming to Darwin?
I am delighted to be here. I love the weather (even the rain), the food markets, the friendly attitude of locals and the multi-cultural nature of the place.
What appeals to you about your role, and the Darwin campus specifically?
I have a fantastic opportunity to be able to build a team of researchers to develop a portfolio of mental health research that is directly relevant to the local and national needs. There are a lot of very experienced and successful academics across CDU, so I also welcome the opportunity to work in partnership with them and other local people to develop meaningful and impactful studies.
The campus seems huge to me (particularly after being in a very compact Hong Kong site for almost seven years!). I really enjoy the tropical feel of the grounds; it makes me feel at home as I have spent many years working and living in Asia.
What do you hope to achieve in the future?
I hope that I can lead a successful group of researchers to conduct research that makes real-world positive impacts on mental health. The NT has some unique mental health challenges, so I would like to contribute towards society by helping to address some of these. I also hope to continue collaborating with mental health researchers around the Australasia region, so the potential benefits of my work can be also be realised on a wider scale.