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Wellbeing a focus for Mental Health nurses

Aboriginal and cultural perspectives lead this year’s Mental Health Nursing Winter Symposium.

Woman standing in front of a lectern
SydneyConnect Image:​​ Dr Robyn Shields AM ​

“My definition of wellbeing is different from your definition of wellbeing,” Uncle Brendan Kerin said in his Welcome to Country at the District’s 2023 Mental Health Nursing Winter Symposium.

His words set the tone for the symposium, which focused on “Mental Health versus Wellbeing – Aboriginal and Other Cultural Perspectives.”

Keynote address speaker, Bundjalung woman Dr Robyn Shields AM continued this theme by emphasising the need to reflect on the past to understand the present.

A two-time Centenary of Federation Medal awardee, she spoke about the significance of First People’s history and social determinants of health and how past legislation and the break-up of families and culture have affected the mental health and wellbeing of many Aboriginal people today.

“It’s an honour to be invited to this symposium because I know that nurses and colleagues have been movers and shakers in change and involved in change, but if we’re going to bring about change, we need to change the lens we are using,” she said.

“The privilege is being able to make a difference and stand up and be counted.”

In 1994, during her time as a registered nurse, Dr Shields had the opportunity to meet with then Clinical Director Professor Marie Bashir on the acute ward at Rozelle Hospital (Callan Park) to develop the mental health service for Aboriginal people.

“We developed the service with the Redfern Aboriginal Medical Service, which was set up by Aboriginal people and run by Aboriginal people. That’s the key to success,” she said.

Upon completion of her medical degree, she returned to work in the mental health sector, returning to Concord Hospital as a psychiatry registrar and became one of the inaugural Deputy Mental Health Commissioners in the Mental Health Commission in NSW.

Her presentation emphasised the effects of second-generation trauma, and how there must be equal input into healthcare and acknowledgement of all the factors that contribute to mental health and wellbeing.

“We need to start telling the history… we need to start telling the circumstances by which people are presenting to our services.

“It’s complex, it’s not easy.”

Staff presentations that followed focused on research projects, patient feedback mechanisms, the delivery of wellbeing in District facilities, and what all healthcare staff should consider around the wellbeing of their patients.

“It does really matter that we are listening to people about their lives rather than talking about their lives for them,” Clinical Nurse Consultant (CNC) David Thompson from the Statewide Intellectual Disability Mental Health Outreach Service (SIDMHOS) said.

Acute CNC from Concord Centre for Mental Health Victoria Roy added, “The people we work with and who access our service have their own personal journey and wellbeing position.”

Congratulations to this year’s presentation award winners:

  • Judges’ Choice Award: Changing the model of Care within the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Emergency Department Mental Health Nursing – presented by Donna Beeson, Brenda Chen, Jude Hesmondhalgh, Aydin Ozden and Rachel Middleton
  • People’s Choice Award: Game Based Learning – presented by Raksha Bakhati, Orshina Toma and Jiewen Wu

“This is a celebration of what we do, what we achieve together,” Mental Health Service Director of Nursing Lance Takiari said.

“For me, it’s really been an eye opener. We have such a diverse cultural workforce across the board, and to celebrate. “

Sydney Local Health District Mental Health Service is a specialised clinical service, managing and providing mental health care across the Sydney and the Inner Western Sydney region.

Mental Health nurses are committed to providing patient and family centred care and play a distinct role in empowering individuals to thrive and flourish.