READY TO BE THE CHANGE
GROUP OF MOTIVATED MENTORS POISED TO COMBAT REGION’S MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS
Nine Kimberley mentors have become the first to graduate from a Certificate IV in Mental Health course run in the region. The individuals, who were able to stay at home in Broome and complete their studies, are all currently working or planning a career in the mental health sector, fuelled by their passion to combat the north’s devastating rate of Aboriginal suicide.
They said there had never previously been an opportunity for them to receive formal mental health training in the Kimberley, despite the region’s issues.
Mikayla Garstone, 20, pictured, was the youngest to qualify.
Their ages, backgrounds, motivations and ambitions may be different, but this empowered group have one thing in common — they aim to be part of the solution to the Kimberley’s suicide crisis.
The Certificate IV in Mental Health course was rolled out in the region for the first time this year, allowing nine graduates to remain at home while developing the skills needed to support people in the region with the highest suicide rate in the nation.
A majority of the participants in the inaugural program, run through the Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Service in Broome, were already in the health sector but had never been given the formal training required.
Among the nine who graduated at the beginning of this month was Jabirr Jabirr man Michael McKenzie, 51, who had been working as a counsellor for more than five years through the KAMS Social and Emotional Well-being Team.
He said it was empowering to finally have the skills to help people who were struggling with their mental health.
“I found some of the stuff familiar from my job, but a lot of it I never had before, it was like here’s the job, now go and do it,” he said. “They say ‘go assist this person with suicide’ and I thought to myself ‘how do I do that? Am I just meant to ask them questions?’
“This puts a bit more structure in terms of all that stuff and has made it more formal for me now.”
Mr McKenzie, who was awarded the Bronwyn leadership prize at the graduation ceremony, said he felt the abnormality in the mental health of Aboriginal people was becoming the normality, which had led him to this path that he planned to continue on.
“I always asked myself why my mob was doing this stuff,” he said.
“We talk about issues but never ask why we are doing it, and I started learning about that with my job, and this course has helped.”
Yawuru, Bunaba and Bardi woman Mikayla Garstone, who was
We talk about issues but never ask why we are doing it, and I started learning about that with my job, and this course has helped. Michael McKenzie
the youngest on the course at 20 years old, said it had refuelled her passion to help combat high suicide rates in the region.
“I was studying psychology at the University of WA, but got homesick and came back home,” she said.
“I was always really passionate about Indigenous mental health and the suicide rates in young people, but there were not too many opportunities for us to stay at home and get the skills we need.
“I have a lot more experience and understanding now and will go back to uni, where I’ll have a bit of an advantage.
“I want to complete my psychology degree, hopefully do further studies, and become a qualified psychologist.”
Derby-born Stewart Jan, 24, found himself working in the mental health sector as a way of overcoming his own battles, which he shares with others as a way of breaking down the stigma.
“When I moved back to the Kimberley from Perth because I was missing home, I was in a dark spot, a dark phase,” he said.
“I went to headspace for counselling and saw the job going so thought ‘stuff the counselling, I will do the job instead’. Part of that was this Cert IV course, so I guess it was my past, my experiences that led me to this path.”
Mr Jan said breaking down the stigma was the first and most important step in changing attitudes around mental health in the north.
“We need to get rid of the shame factor around males especially — I saw that my whole time at headpsace,” he said.
“Many of our people wouldn’t comprehend that word ‘stigma’, and that is what I want to educate people on.”
Registered training organisation educator Linda Kruger said the huge uptake in the course in its first year showed the high demand for Kimberley people to make changes in their own region.
“Seeing that big gap here was a big driver for me,” she said.
“There was no proper mental health support anywhere in the region.
“Many of these workers were put into roles without any formal training, which really highlights this gap in regional areas.
“It’s given students a platform, especially young people from communities.”
Ten other graduates were also celebrated at the KAMS ceremony on December 3 in the Certificate III and IV Aboriginal Health courses.
Among the group was Broome Regional Aboriginal Medical Service worker Alyssa Cox, 37, who said she was following in the footsteps of her family members, who were all in the health sector.
“The course opened my eyes — I learned many different things, there was a lot of hands-on sort of stuff,” she said.
KAMS chief executive Vicki O’Donnell said the graduates would play a vital role in the community and she had no doubt they would all be successful.
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