Collaboration drives youth mental health support in the Kimberley

  • The headspace Kununurra team (L to R) Mia El Masri, Liesa Conley, Sally Cutler, Emily Crossland, Stephanie Trust and Deon Cox.

The headspace Kununurra team (L to R) Mia El Masri, Liesa Conley, Sally Cutler, Emily Crossland, Stephanie Trust and Deon Cox.

While people in rural and remote Australia experience mental health issues at the same rate as those in the cities, they can face challenges in accessing health care and support services. This is especially true for the Kimberley region in Western Australia (WA), where the vast geographical area, along with a dispersed and diverse population, means that designing and delivering a service for young people in the region is a complex job.

The Kimberley is remote and expansive, encompassing over 400,000 square kilometres, more than 30 language groups and approximately 220 remote Aboriginal communities. The region has a younger age profile than the rest of regional WA, with 25 per cent of the population under the age of 15 and close to half of its population identifying as Aboriginal.

headspace Kununurra was established to support young people in the East Kimberley – the culmination of extensive consultation with local community and stakeholders to help shape priorities for the new service and ensure it complements existing youth services in Kununurra and brings resources together in a way that works for young people.

Clinical Director, Wunan Health, Stephanie Trust, said headspace Kununurra uses a collaborative service model providing a network of relationships between individuals, family, kin and community.

‘Our service recognises that a young person’s wellbeing is influenced by the social determinants of health, and other factors relating to trauma and poverty, and works to not only support the social, emotional and cultural wellbeing of the individual, but the whole community.’

The establishment of headspace Kununurra was driven by collaboration. Consultations highlighted the energy, commitment and initiative local stakeholders have shown over many years in their efforts to build a youth wellbeing hub in Kununurra. Stakeholders were unanimous in the belief that sustainable change requires the growing of incumbent capability and capacity and, as such, expressed a high level of commitment to the consultation process and the identification of locally appropriate design and service integration opportunities.

Manager of headspace Kununurra , Mia El Masri, said culturally relevant tools, as well as greater involvement of Aboriginal people in the design and delivery of mental health services in Kununurra was vital.

‘headspace provides a culturally safe service that is dedicated to the young people of Kununurra. Since opening in September, we’ve seen a progressive increase in service access each week by Aboriginal young people utilising headspace Kununurra for support with social and emotional wellbeing, sexual and physical health, drug and alcohol support, and vocational education support.’

Active collaboration has benefits for stakeholders, community, government agencies and organisations alike. Given the synergies between headspace Kununurra and the Kimberley Youth Alcohol and Other Drug Service, WA Primary Health Alliance joined its consultation activities with the WA Mental Health Commission.

WA Primary Health Alliance General Manager of Commissioned Services, Mark Cockayne, said through partnering with other agencies and organisations, we can achieve better system integration and can avoid repeating the same conversations with the same communities, particularly in regions such as the Kimberley where consultation fatigue is a real issue.

‘Working in partnership with local communities, stakeholders and service providers in regional, rural and remote areas has many benefits. In the Kimberley, it has given us the opportunity to work with other commissioning bodies to adopt a genuinely place-based approach and tailor youth support services to the unique needs of the community.’

As the operator of WA’s three Primary Health Networks, WA Primary Health Alliance is committed to localised, integrated and collaborative service delivery wherever possible, to ensure youth mental health services meet the needs of local young people.

headspace Kununurra has been made possible through funding provided by the Australian Government under the PHN Program.

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