Top psychology graduate working to address mental health stigma
Thomas Rout awarded University Medal for outstanding academic achievements
Thomas Rout’s drive to study psychology has been shaped by the experiences of those around him.
Seeing some of his family and friends grapple with mental illness left a lasting impression on Thomas, who wanted to do what he could to make an impact in this growing area.
“Throughout high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or to study. I was thinking about medicine and health. A lot of people close to me were experiencing mental health issues, and there was a lot about it in the media,” he said.
“It’s such a huge area of concern and it’s going to be even more relevant in the future.”
Thomas was the first in his family to attend university. Now, after graduating from the University of Wollongong (UOW) with a Bachelor of Psychology (Honours), he is undertaking a PhD exploring the relationship between mindfulness and anxiety.
It is a tremendous achievement and proof that Thomas has found his passion.
While he originally had planned to become a counsellor, once he started studying, Thomas discovered a love of research that has seen him pivot to a PhD. His thesis, under the supervision of Associate Professor Adam Clarke and Professor Robert Barry, is examining how mindfulness and guided meditation change brain patterns that are commonly associated with anxiety.
“Psychology is such a broad area, there are so many different areas that can be studied,” he said.
“My research is looking at people experiencing high levels of anxiety. Research has shown that guided meditation may change a person’s physiological symptoms, but often people don’t have the money or the time to take part in an intensive mindfulness program.
“Helping people with the tools to do their own mindfulness-based stress reduction and guided meditation seems to be lower effort and more beneficial to the everyday person.
“Eventually, I want to work with people with anxiety disorders. they often really struggle and it can affect their day to day lives. I have seen people with anxiety at the peak of their suffering, and it takes time, but with the right support, they can manage their anxiety.”
Thomas has thrived at UOW; upon graduation, he received the University Medal for the School of Psychology for his academic achievements. He also made the Dean’s Merit List every year of his degree.
He attributes his success to hard work, the help of his family and friends, and the support of the Woolyungah Indigenous Centre at UOW.
“When I received the University Medal, I was really proud of myself. It felt like a lot of years of hard work had been recognised. My family were really impressed with me,” Thomas said.
“I’m really thankful to my family and friends for being a source of support when uni was tough. They helped me to keep a level head when things were intense.
“Woolyungah has been awesome throughout my degree and checked in with me often. They gave me a scholarship in 2018 which really helped to set me up for that year.”
While Thomas believes the stigma attached to mental health is reducing, he said there is still a long way to go and that comes down to talking openly about the problems that life can present.
“There is still a long way to go, but we are definitely taking steps in the right direction to reduce stigma around mental health,” Thomas said.
“Mental health should be viewed the same as physical health. It’s becoming a more normal and accepted part of life, and there is no shame in speaking out and getting help. Some people experience issues and need support to get through, and we need to push back against the stigma so there is no hesitation to reach out for support.”