Literacy as a fundamental social determinant of (mental) health

Degree type


Closing date

29 October 2021



Citizenship requirement

Domestic/International Onshore

About the research project

Good brain health is an emerging concept that the WHO has defined as a state in which every individual can optimise their cognitive, emotional, psychological, and behavioural functioning; not merely the absence of disease. Brain health has been postulated as the key to health, the brain “the agent of all our actions and the mediator of all our experiences”. With a strong association between social disadvantage and poor mental health, poverty, childhood adversity, and violence are key individual risk factors for mental disorders. Most mental health conditions begin in childhood and given long-term and pervasive impacts, prevention through to recovery are thus societal and economic imperatives.

Interventions targeting common mental disorders and their risk factors have their largest effects during childhood and adolescence, emphasising the need to target developmentally sensitive periods in the life course. At the individual level, maternal and child health, education, employment and quality of work, and healthy ageing are key foci. Limited literacy is an important and under-examined factor contributing to the health disparities experienced by people with mental illness.

Tasmanian children, around 24% of the state’s population, experience the highest levels of socio-economic disadvantage of children in any Australian jurisdiction. Tasmania has the highest self-reported prevalence of mental health problems among adults in 2014-15. Tasmania has the lowest levels of functional literacy in Australia.

This PhD program will explore the role of literacy difficulties as a social determinant of poor (mental) health in young Tasmanians and, whether this is an inter-generational story within the Tasmanian context. The research program will employ mixed methods, with an initial focus on:

  • Obtaining informed consent in young people with poor literacy
  • Data collection methods to maximise engagement and participation, and minimise stigma, and
  • Assess the impact of poor literacy on mental and physical health status.

Primary Supervisor

Meet Dr Amanda Neil


Applicants will be considered for a Research Training Program (RTP) scholarship or Tasmania Graduate Research Scholarship (TGRS) which, if successful, provides:

  • a living allowance stipend of $28,597 per annum (2021 rate, indexed annually) for 3.5 years
  • a relocation allowance of up to $2,000
  • a tuition fees offset covering the cost of tuition fees for up to four years (domestic applicants only)

If successful, international applicants will receive a University of Tasmania Fees Offset for up to four years.

As part of the application process you may indicate if you do not wish to be considered for scholarship funding.


The project is open to domestic (Australian and New Zealand) and international applicants who are already in Australia (onshore) at the time of submitting their application.

Due to current Australian COVID-19 travel restrictions the University cannot accept applications from international applicants who are currently overseas.

Applicants should review the Higher Degree by Research minimum entry requirements.

Selection Criteria

The project is competitively assessed and awarded.  Selection is based on academic merit and suitability to the project as determined by the College.

Additional desirable selection criteria specific to this project:

  • Experience of working with vulnerable populations, preparation of ethics applications, undertaking mixed methods research

Application process

There is a three-step application process:

  1. Select the project, and check you meet the eligibility and selection criteria;
  2. Contact the Primary Supervisor, Dr Amanda Neil, if you have any questions about the project; and
  3. Click here to submit an application by the closing date listed above.
    • Copy and paste the title of the project from this advertisement into your application. If you don’t correctly do this your application may be rejected.
    • As part of your application you will be required to submit a covering letter, a CV including contact details of two referees and your project research proposal.

Following the application closing date applications will be assessed within the College. Applicants should expect to receive notification of the outcome by email.

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