Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health worker making a difference in the Wheatbelt

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health worker Agnes Lockyer.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health worker Agnes Lockyer.

ABORGINAL and Torres Strait Islander people have the highest rate of suicide in Australia and the figures are rising among young people, according to the Wheatbelt Health Network (WHN).

The not-for-profit group has found mental illness is a significant contributor to people taking their lives, with people fuelled by feelings of despair, disempowerment and hopelessness.

It provides GP, nursing, allied and mental health services at centres across the Wheatbelt region including Toodyay, Northam and Narrogin.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health worker Agnes Lockyer works with the WHN social and emotional wellbeing team in Northam.

“I witness the impact of mental illness and drug and alcohol dependency upon Aboriginal people at the individual, family and community levels on a daily basis,” she said.

“As a local Ballardong Noongar Yorga, belonging to the town of Northam, I have seen the devastating suffering brought about by the intergenerational trauma experienced by Noongar people.

“This affects everyone from our Elders, the holders of knowledge, and our parents, the next in line, through to our brothers and sisters, the emerging leaders, and our children who are our future.”

She said mental illness does not discriminate, but people and systems often do.

A major goal of her work is to help build relationships and break down historical and social barriers in the region.

“My aim is to work collaboratively with Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal health and other professionals within and outside the WHN to raise mental health and suicide awareness.”

The WHN social, emotional and wellbeing team has counselling services in Northam, Toodyay, York, Bindoon, Gingin and Lancelin.

For more information about rural health services, call 9621 4444 or visit www.wheatbelt.com.au.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt last month announced people living in rural regions would have the same access to psychologists through a ‘telehealth’ initiative set to roll out in November.

Under the new arrangement, up to seven of 10 sessions available under the Medicare rebate program will be available through an online consultation service.

Rural Doctors Association of Australia President Dr Ewen McPhee said early intervention in acute mental health crisis was vital and could help a patient recover quicker.

“Rural suicide rates have never been higher, and (telehealth) is an important investment.”

The health initiative will cost $9 million over four years.