Notre Dame student addresses Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health awareness

Document Type

Media Release

Publication Date

Spring 11-9-2012

Publisher Name

The University of Notre Dame Australia

Publication Place



When Elija Thomas-Burrows discovered that the chance of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person being involuntarily admitted to psychiatric care is three to five times higher than other Australians1, he saw the need to educate health professionals in providing culturally sensitive care to Indigenous people experiencing acute mental illness.

The third-year year nursing student at University of Notre Dame Australia was granted funding from Rural Health Workforce Australia and Notre Dame to run an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health First Aid Course. The weekend course was attended by over 40 students from a range of disciplines, including nursing, medicine and pharmacy, some travelling to Notre Dame's inner-city campus from Wollongong and western Sydney.

As Co-Chair of ROUNDS, the student-run Rural Health Organisation of the University of Notre Dame Sydney, Mr Thomas-Burrows said he was grateful for organisations that prioritise the provision of health care services for people in rural and remote settings.

"Thanks to the support of Rural Health Workforce and Notre Dame, the course, which normally costs $200, was provided free of charge for ROUNDS members and cost only $10 for non-members," Mr Thomas-Burrows said.

Associate Professor Joe McGirr, Associate Dean Rural, said it was wonderful to see Notre Dame students identify a need in the community and look for ways to address it.

"I would like to congratulate Mr Thomas-Burrows and the ROUNDS executives on taking the initiative to host this event," said Associate Professor McGirr.

"Improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is a critical challenge for Australia and courses such as this are a part of how we can help meet that challenge."

The Mental Health First Aid Course was delivered by a certified trainer, who is a member of Mental Health First Aid Australia. Miriam Cavanagh, a member of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and Associate Lecturer at the Notre Dame Sydney School of Medicine, kindly volunteered to attend and provided invaluable cultural advice to participants.

Associate Professor Bethne Hart, specialist in mental health and sociology lecturer at Notre Dame said the workshop provided an opportunity for attendees to learn new skills and share their own knowledge and experiences.

"It was an important forum within which to address the myths surrounding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and culture," Associate Professor Hart said.

"As health professionals, we must learn to practise cultural safety and thereby provide respectful care alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers and services."

Mr Thomas-Burrows said problem-solving with students of other disciplines over the duration of the course created a dynamic learning environment.

"The course was a great demonstration of how programs can be run with a multidisciplinary approach, with students from many health care streams present. This interaction is important as we move into a health care system where specialists must work together to provide holistic health care solutions for patients," said Mr Thomas-Burrows.

"I'm grateful to Notre Dame for allowing us to use their facilities over the weekend and for providing funding for it. It's another demonstration of Notre Dame's commitment to the key areas of rural health, Indigenous health and mental health."

1 According to statistics from Mindframe, a national Australian resource on suicide and mental illness,
supported by the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing.

For further information please contact:
Communications Officer, Elizabeth Fenech
The University of Notre Dame Australia, Sydney Campus

T: 02 8204 4407
E: elizabeth.fenech@nd.edu.au
W: www.nd.edu.au/