From the Pilbara to Arnhem Land, and to the back of Bourke, interdisciplinary collaboration is shaping the standard of care and improving the way mental health practitioners support rural and remote communities.
Nearly 40 per cent of MHPN-supported networks are in rural and remote locations. Over the coming year, MHPN aims to build on this through supporting interdisciplinary networks to start up in rural and remote (RAR) Australia.
Our targeted rural and remote strategy acknowledges that each rural and remote region in Australia will have some similarities as well as a specific set of differences to each other and metropolitan areas.
The MHPN network team met with two long-standing coordinators, Ms Sharon Sewell and Ms Dennise Allen, in July. They are respectively the primary health liaison for WAPHA (Western Australia Primary Health Alliance) and coordinator of MHPN’s Karratha and Port Hedland networks; and Port Hedland co-coordinator and WA Country Health Service team leader. Sharon also shared comments from her Karratha co-coordinator Samara Clark, headspace manager for the Pilbara.
The partnerships between these coordinators demonstrate strong interdisciplinary collaboration with key mental health services that are 100km apart and over 1500km from Perth.
Sharon, Dennise and Samara gave our team valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities that arise from isolation and having a limited workforce.
In Karratha, Sharon says, WAPHA works closely with local GPs and visiting psychiatrists to help their clients receive treatment and ongoing support.
‘We help them to develop and implement quality treatment and support plan services and activities that meet the unique health needs of the community’, she says.
Sharon organises activities such as practice data quality support and training on digital health initiatives; sourcing training opportunities; arranging peer networking events; and she acts as a conduit for health information and partnerships and collaborations.
Dennise explains that Aboriginal mental health workers are the lynchpin to interdisciplinary social and emotional wellbeing in Karratha and Port Hedland where Aboriginal clients make up a large number of the clientele.
There are three Aboriginal mental health workers in Dennise’s team and they are the first point of contact for an Aboriginal client.
‘We work alongside the Aboriginal mental health workers. We can't do our work without them in terms of engagement, family education and medication compliance. We've got one of the lowest, number of community treatment orders out of our cohort. So we use engagement rather than using mental health legislation to enforce treatment, which we're very proud of’, Dennise says.
Moreover, the combination of cultural knowledge and trust held within the Aboriginal community means Aboriginal mental health workers are more likely to encourage help-seeking behaviours; and help with accurate diagnoses.
Samara says it’s important for non-Indigenous mental health workers to undertake cultural training.
‘It's vital to understanding the protocols; building the relationship; being transparent about who you work for and your agenda, and be prepared to share information about yourself’.
Dennise adds that extended family networks and social connections within Aboriginal communities have a big impact on the social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing of the individual so the team knows that a client will be safe, and if not, the community will let her know.
This helps reduce hospital admissions and allows clients to recover on their own terms with the support of their family and cultural practices at home.
Both Sharon and Dennise often need to think outside the box or come up with ‘creative plans’, to get their clients the help they need because there are so few private practitioners available.
For instance, Port Hedland has one private psychologist so there are alternatives for people to access help which includes organisations such as Mission Australia, through private health insurance or an employee assistance program and co-management with a GP.
MHPN will use this discussion with Sharon and Dennise to help us understand, engage and support rural and remote practitioners through our network and webinar programs.
We continue to support practitioners to start and run interdisciplinary networks nationally and we invite you to contact us if you want to get involved. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org.