Meet The Researcher

Dr Milena Gandy

Macquarie University, NSW

Let’s get started! Tell us an interesting fact about yourself...
When I was a young teenager, I moved from Sydney to a small town in the South of Ireland. This was a bit of a culture shock for me at the time. However, I really enjoyed the years I spent living in Ireland and call it my second home.
What inspired you to get involved in MS research?
I am a clinical psychologist and researcher. Throughout my work I have noticed that many people living with MS, and other neurological disorders, have really struggled to find good support for managing their mental health and wellbeing. People with MS are often told things like “you will need to learn to manage stress” but are rarely given good guidance on how to actually do this! This inspired me to look at ways I can increase access to effective psychological care for people with MS, including offering digital treatments.
What do you think has been the most exciting development in MS research?
The shift in focus to better understanding and targeting modifiable lifestyle factors in MS development and management. I think MS Australia’s 2020 Modifiable Lifestyle Guides are a great resource for people wanting to keep up to date with the evidence base and recommendations in this area.
Tell us about your current research project...
I recently developed a digital psychological treatment, known as the Wellbeing Neuro Course, which teaches skills for managing both mental health (e.g., depression) and functional difficulties (e.g., cognitive problems) in the context of living with a neurological disorder. This treatment teaches all the same skills you would get face-to-face form a specialist psychologist, but it is delivered using carefully developed online modules, with support provided via telephone and messaging systems. I have now run some early phase clinical trials of the course with very encouraging feedback and results. My current research project is aimed at examining the real-world effectiveness and potential of digital psychological treatments for people with MS. This involves moving beyond the early phase research trials to examine how people with MS find the course within community and clinical settings. This includes seeing whether the program can be integrated into routine care at an MS Clinic within Sydney.
Why is your research important and how will it influence the understanding and treatment of MS?
This research will provide important information about a new and promising approach to the psychological care of people with MS. Historically, people living with MS have been expected to seek separate clinical care when experiencing poor mental health and wellbeing, even if related to their MS. However, most people face significant barriers trying to do so (e.g., lack of trained clinicians, high costs, mobility issues). This research is important as digital psychological treatments have the potential to overcome many of these barriers and may be a feasible and sustainable new model of care.
What do you enjoy most about working in the lab and what are some of the challenges you face?
I enjoy being part of a research clinic that is passionate about research translating into improved patient care and quality of life. I also enjoy being able to use my clinical experience as a clinical psychologist to inform my research questions. At times academic life can be demanding and competitive - so it is important to enjoy what you do, remember why you’re doing it, and work with a good team of people.
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Milena Gandy