Indigenous mental health a vital focus for Pilbara NGOs

Alicia PereraPilbara News
Psychologist Tracy Westerman speaks to Pilbara NGO staff at a two-day mental health workshop in Karratha last week.
Camera IconPsychologist Tracy Westerman speaks to Pilbara NGO staff at a two-day mental health workshop in Karratha last week. Credit: Anthony Veder

Pioneering Aboriginal psychologist and WA Australian of the Year winner Tracy Westerman visited Karratha last week to deliver specialised training in indigenous mental health to psychologists and social workers from across the region.

Over a two-day workshop at the Karratha Leisureplex, the internationally recognised psychologist spoke to local staff about how to identify signs of mental health issues such as depression in Aboriginal clients and intervene early in a culturally appropriate way.

The event marks the first time Dr Westerman, who grew up in Tom Price, has returned to the Pilbara since winning WA Australian of the Year in November.

She said the training would fill in gaps in professionals’ knowledge on indigenous mental health, which was too often “invisible” in mainstream psychology training.

“We get people skilled up in identifying the different signs of depression and knowing how to treat depression in a more culturally specific way, because the more we can get conditions at an early stage, the more we can prevent the escalation of those issues in the community more generally,” she said.

“I want people to be more tuned into those early signs and also how to work on and prevent mental health issues in Aboriginal communities, which are often very different to working with non-indigenous communities.”

The workshop, which was supported by the WA Primary Health Alliance and facilitated by Mission Australia, was attended by about 40 mental health and drug and alcohol counselling staff from Mission Australia, headspace, Hedland’s Youth Involvement Council and Bloodwood Tree.

Mission Australia Hedland clinical lead Amanda MacBride said Dr Westerman’s training was invaluable for her and her colleagues for its focus on indigenous mental health.

“We can get cultural training but it’s general, and we can get more mental health training in our field, but to find that combination is rare, so that’s what makes this so enriching because we need that combination up here in the Pilbara,” she said.

“You are going to have Aboriginal clients here ... so you need those tools.”

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