Indigenous communities in Nepean Blue Mountains increase access to mental health care

Indigenous communities throughout the Nepean Blue Mountains region now have increased access to mental health, drug and alcohol counselling delivered by Aboriginal health professionals.

Nine students have completed a customised Diploma of Mental Health and Alcohol and Other Drugs tailored by TAFE Digital for the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, Sydney University to provide training to Indigenous communities.

Almost 700 Indigenous residents have already benefited from the experience gained by these students of the specialist TAFE Digital course.

This program was commissioned by Nepean Blue Mountains Primary Health Network (NBMPHN) and funded by the federal government.

Vita Christie, manager of the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health, said they had successfully gained a tender from Wentworth Healthcare, Nepean Blue Mountains Primary Health Network (NBMPHN) to empower the Indigenous workforce, specifically in the field of mental health, alcohol and other drugs.

Wentworth Healthcare CEO, Lizz Reay said, "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people often face extra barriers when accessing health services and these graduates will help our community by providing culturally safe and appropriate support that will help break down some those barriers."

"Before these nine students graduated, our consultations indicated that there was only one qualified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community worker to providing drug and alcohol counselling in our region. As a result of this program there are now 10. We think that is a great result for our community."

"Four students from the cohort applied to undertake cadetship, which involved completing the qualification, whilst undertaking paid work in four host organisations in the NBMPHN catchment area*," Ms Christie said.

All students gained specialised knowledge and practical skills in the areas of mental health, and drug and alcohol counselling and are now able to take these skills into their workplace to contribute more holistically regarding appropriate treatment and management.

"To date, the graduates have engaged with over 655 clients ... the graduates are able to help improve Indigenous health outcomes, with the Aboriginal workforce increasing retention of Indigenous clients in their local communities."

In conjunction with the diploma, a community engagement and education program was implemented.

Cadet Mikielah Leigh, who worked at Hawkesbury District Health Service, St John of God, said, "The Poche (18 month) cadetship has been an incredible learning journey for me, as I started with little experience in the area of mental health, drug and alcohol health services. I now have the essential skill sets to pursue my dream of a career in healthcare and plan to become one of only a few Aboriginal social workers in western Sydney, once I've obtained a degree".

  • *The catchment area includes Neami Nepean Penrith; WHOS West; Hawkesbury District Community Health (St John of God Healthcare); and Ted Noffs Mt Druitt.