Suicide prevention project speaks to the heart of Pacific Islanders

Multicultural Health program officer Dora Onesemo, Safe Start coordinator Katrina Shade, PCYMHS operations manager Sumithira Joseph and clinical director Dr Ash Padhi.

Mental health first aid is going out to the local Pacific Island community after a spate of teenage emergency presentations to hospitals in Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD).

The district’s Perinatal, Child and Youth Mental Health Services (PCYMHS) team noticed the trend and teamed up with Multicultural Health, WentWest and the Ministry of Health to tackle the issue.

PCYMHS clinical director Dr Ash Padhi said the idea was to develop a “triangle of care” with family, the community and health professionals all supporting adolescents and youth.

“We realised it was a cultural norm for families to try to deal with it alone and many young people did not seek help until they reached a crisis point,” Ash said.

“We needed to not only educate young people but also involve the families and the community, to ensure people had access to the right health care at the right time.”

The first meeting of the Pacific Mental Health core group.

WSLHD Multicultural Health program officer Dora Onesemo said the project started with going to the community and understanding current attitudes toward mental health.

“Religion is a massive part of Pacific Island culture, so while we were trying to help young people it was important for us to think about how we could involve churches, pastors and community elders in this education,” Dora said.

“One of the key messages for us to get across is that physical, mental and spiritual health are all important and all connected.”

The team started by running a mental health education day with headspace for students at Plumpton High School, which was particularly affected by a rise in teen mental health issues.

They also worked with teachers and school psychologists to develop a clear process for helping teenagers who reported feeling unsafe.

PCYMHS operations manager Sumithira Joseph said the work helped alleviate teachers’ anxiety.

“The teachers all wanted to help but they didn’t know where to start. Now they know what to do and how best to help the students,” Sumithira said.

The team has continued to deliver mental health education sessions with churches, sport clubs, community organisations and elders.

A Pacific Mental Health core group that WSLHD is part of also trained four Pacific Islander community members in Mental Health First Aid so they can continue to teach people how to manage common mental health issues including depression and anxiety.

Upcoming projects for the team include educating pregnant women about issues including stress, social isolation and postnatal depression, always with a focus on going out into the community rather than waiting for people to come to them.

WSLHD Mental Health is also continuing to work on the unWired Project with support from The Balnaves Foundation.

The innovative concept involves using wearable, wireless health devices to monitor young people’s stress levels and increase the opportunities for early intervention.