Network Coordinator Q & A: Dr Melanie Burkhardt

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Kate Hoppe/Manager, Marketing, Communications & Strategic Projects
3 mins read·July 20th, 2020

We caught up with Dr Melanie Burkhardt recently to talk about her involvement in the Perth Diabetes MHPN.

“I was motivated by the potential for the network to contribute to improving the care of people with diabetes in our community, through teaching, training and networking opportunities for mental health and diabetes care professionals, and researchers across the health sector.”

Why did you become a network coordinator?

As a clinical psychologist, who works within a multidisciplinary diabetes team in a tertiary hospital, I see a significant role for behaviour change specialists in diabetes management, specifically in improving self-care, psychological wellbeing and quality of life.

I was motivated by the potential for the network to contribute to improving the care of people with diabetes in our community, through teaching, training and networking opportunities for mental health and diabetes care professionals, and researchers across the health sector.

What do you like about coordinating a MHPN-supported network?

MHPN is a recognised national platform that provides opportunities for interdisciplinary professional development. Practical support from our dedicated MHPN project officer includes the administration of funds, sending meeting invitations, collating RSVPs and sending PD certificates, and maintaining a directory of practitioners and services. The resources and support available through MHPN makes the job of coordinating the network so much easier.

What advice would you give to other coordinators?

At the outset, I think it’s helpful to have a vision for the network, and an understanding of what you’re trying to achieve and why. Having colleagues and co-coordinators with shared goals, can help lessen the load, keep things on track and moving forward especially at times where there are multiple competing work and life priorities!

Tell us about the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration in the relation to diabetes and mental health.

Diabetes is a complex chronic condition where multidisciplinary input is considered the standard of care. Where I work as a clinical psychologist in a tertiary adult hospital, the input I provide is in consultation with, and at times provided jointly with other members of the specialist diabetes team be they endocrinologists, diabetes educators and dietitians.

As health professionals from different disciplines, we all have the same goals of achieving improved functioning and quality of life for our clients. The idea of addressing the whole context, which includes the person’s health condition, especially their diabetes self-management and metabolic control, is of paramount importance.

This is also important because there are aspects of a person’s health state that can worsen symptoms of their mental health condition. For example, symptoms of depressed mood may be exacerbated by high or highly variable blood glucose, which may in part be due to missed or unsafe use of medications such as insulin.

Addressing the reasons for omissions in self-care and working on behaviour change in therapy, when it involves medications, especially insulin, should be guided by the person’s diabetes specialist or care team.

Improving the person’s self-care and health state often leads to an alleviation of distress and an improvement in mood quickly that may otherwise be very difficult to address without doing so, and could lead to increasing risks and compromising the person’s health longer-term.

The treatment of an eating disorder in the context of type 1 diabetes, or diabetes-related anxiety such as hypoglycaemia fear are examples of presenting problems that should always involve the person’s diabetes specialist and care team.

How did you find the experience of hosting a meeting online compared to a face-to-face meeting?

It’s a really different experience to a face-to-face meeting. I personally think it’s a challenging forum to facilitate informal networking, but it has the benefit of convenience and accessibility. I wonder whether it could have the potential to draw more attendees who may find it difficult to attend a face-to-face session. Overall, I do think it was well-received by participants. As coordinators, we’re still working to find better ways of working online, as this is likely to become an increasingly common medium for meetings in the future.

What did MHPN do well in supporting you to prepare for the meeting?

Our dedicated project officer set up virtual meetings, sent out invites and even guided us through a trial run on the platform before the session. It gave us the chance to familiarise ourselves with the platform, and how we were going to run the session. I was grateful to have a practice session beforehand.

Interested in joining or starting a network in your area?

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The Mental Health Professionals’ Network (MHPN) respectfully acknowledges the Wurundjeri and the Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin nation, the Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land on which our office is situated. We also acknowledge Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and pay our respects to their Elders past and present.