General News — 10 February 2016

SOME of our best mental health interventions are under-appreciated. It was only recently that we have more widely acknowledged that physical exercise is an excellent intervention, as effective as antidepressants for many forms of depression. I believe that the most under-recognised mental health interventions are education programs for those who are marginalised.

I recently ran run a positive psychology workshop for educators at The Gordon. The participants provide educational programs to diverse groups including indigenous students, migrants, marginalised youth, and those whose secondary schooling was previously disrupted.

They offered some striking anecdotes, including one teacher’s description of the level of engagement of several young Afghani women in their classes, as well as the involvement of refugees who had survived traumatic experiences en route to Australia.

When people have suffered prolonged stress and trauma, we rightfully anticipate that they will be more prone to mental health problems. This calls for appropriate mental health interventions.

Sometimes there is nothing better for such individuals than the opportunity to pursue structured learning. They might find somewhere else they belong, where they receive naturally occurring social support, and where they have established new routines to help develop their skills and resourcefulness that support a brighter future. Following especially stressful experiences, such opportunities can help people transform post-traumatic stress into post-traumatic growth.

There are few things more uplifting than to see someone making the most of their opportunities to improve their fortunes. I previously saw this happening when visiting classes for marginalised youths at programs run by Barwon Youth and Diversitat, and working with some of their educators over several months.

In my view, they offered some of the most worthwhile and cost-effective mental health interventions for vulnerable youths I have witnessed.

Tailored educational programs can only increase participants’ chances of obtaining paid work down the track, one of the most important and under-recognised mental health interventions of all. In such cases, there are obvious benefits to the participants, their families and the wider community.

But even when such programs do not obviously lead to work, their capacity to provide structure and meaning to people’s lives, as well as to enhance students’ sense of connection to others and the community at large, has to be a good thing.

I was interested to note that this theme was touched upon by Western Victoria Primary Health Network CEO Jason Trethowan in a meeting of health professionals last week to discuss current health service issues.

As Jason highlighted, it is not only health services that deliver health interventions. Health funding will always be finite. Despite talk of forthcoming improvements in the mental health sector in particular, no extra funding is being offered.

That means we need to maximise the full range of opportunities we have to improve our mental health, including things that make a difference that are offered outside the health system. One thing we can do is appreciate the beneficial input of those already making a big difference.

So hats off to our educators, and especially those who work with the marginalised — you deserve our appreciation and respect.

— Chris Mackey is principal psychologist at Chris Mackey and Associates, Geelong, and author of Synchronicity: Empower your life with the gift of coincidence.

This article first appeared on ‘Geelong Advertiser’ on 8 February 2016.


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