Indigenous students on the right course to help mental health issues

7 APRIL 2020

Indigenous students on the right course to help mental health issues

“The course has been collaboratively designed with community-based organisations and the mental health sectors specifically for Indigenous students."

  • Gamilaraay nation woman Mrs Georgina O’Neill reflects on importance of study with Charles Sturt University
  • University’s Djirruwang program has long history of training Indigenous students to work and excel in mental health field
  • Charles Sturt graduate highlighted on World Health Organization’s World Health Day, Tuesday 7 April

Mrs Georgina O’Neill (pictured) has spent the past 18 months putting the skills gained from a Charles Sturt University mental health course to use, in both a professional and personal capacity.

In 2018 the proud Gamilaraay nation woman graduated from the University’s Djirruwang program, a Bachelor of Health Science (Mental Health) undergraduate course for Indigenous students which allows students to exit with a diploma (one year of study), associate degree (two years) or bachelor’s degree (three years).

Wagga Wagga-based Mrs O’Neill completed the full three-year bachelor’s course, and has utilised her training in her role as a Mental Health Team Leader at the Riverina Medical and Dental Aboriginal Corporation, where she has worked for the past three years.

Her study at Charles Sturt in Wagga Wagga and “eye-opening” work placements – Mrs O’Neill was required to undertake 17 weeks of practical work to complete the course - have also had applications in her personal life.

“I have family members with mental health issues but [before studying] I ignored it because I didn’t understand, but now I have the knowledge and skills to help,” she said.

“I was not aware of the importance of mental health until I did this study, and realised what correct diagnoses and medication could mean for people with issues.

“Now, having that understanding, I can work better with my family, clients and the community, and can try to help my community have a better understanding of mental health issues.”

Raised in Walgett in far western NSW, the married mother of two and grandmother of seven has a long history of work in the Indigenous health sphere, having previously worked as an Aboriginal Health Worker with the Murrumbidgee Local Health District for eight years.

In her current role Mrs O’Neill’s responsibilities include: providing support to clients that have mental health diagnoses; the provision of health education programs and services; supporting colleagues with cultural input when dealing with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients; and the regular review, update and ensure cultural appropriateness of education resources that relate to the prevention, screening, assessment and management of mental health issues for the Indigenous community.

Mrs O’Neill said studying with Charles Sturt’s School of Nursing, Midwifery and Indigenous Health in the Faculty of Science had better equipped her to serve her clients’ needs, and she would certainly recommend it to any prospective Indigenous students looking to build a career in mental health services.

“I couldn’t have asked for better lecturers than what I had during my three years studying at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga,” she said.

“If I needed help at any time I could call on any one of them, as well as the staff at the Indigenous Support Unit.”

Director of the Djirruwang program, Associate Professor Faye McMillan, said the course, which has been running for 27 years, was an important cog in the mental health system, with a particular emphasis on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

“The course has been collaboratively designed with community-based organisations and the mental health sectors specifically for Indigenous students,” Professor McMillan said.

“Graduates of the course have the skills, knowledge, understanding and attitudes that are required for a career as an Indigenous mental health worker situated within their community or mainstream mental health services.

“Charles Sturt University is committed to making a lasting and positive impact in Indigenous communities, and Georgina is just one of our many graduates doing precisely that.”

Media Note:

For more information or to arrange interviews with Mrs Georgina O’Neill please contact Charles Sturt Media’s Dave Neil on 0407 332 718 or at news@csu.edu.au

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Wagga Wagga Charles Sturt University Health Indigenous Science