Addressing mental health inequality in our region

Every year, almost one-in-five Australians experiences a mental health illness. Research shows that people in rural and remote areas are less likely to seek help for mental illness than those in towns and cities, and also that help may be less available to them. We are committed to working with our local Illawarra and Shoalhaven communities to urgently address this divide, through collaborative research, outreach and preventative care.

Our challenge

Approximately one third of people in Australia live in remote and rural areas, and don’t enjoy the same high standard of health and well-being as those living in towns and cities. At the University of Wollongong, our urgent focus is on mental health in our home communities in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven, where people are more likely than the average NSW resident to experience psychological distress, and have mental or behavioural problems. They’re also more likely to be smokers, heavy drinkers, overweight and hospitalised for attempted suicide.

People in the Illawarra and Shoalhaven areas are more disadvantaged than NSW or Australia as a whole. Homelessness is on the rise, the death rate is higher, and the disability rate is higher. It means the mental health needs of people in our area are complex and significant.

Our response

The University of Wollongong is perfectly placed to work with local people and organisations to tackle this mental health divide. MIND the GaP (which stands for ‘Mental Illness in Nowra District: Goals and Prevention’) is our strategy to create greater social equality through fair and accessible models of health care that are not dependent on where you live or what you can afford.

MIND the GaP focuses on innovative responses to improve the mental well-being of our communities. It helps to improve community support and provide better preventative care by translating research into practical applications. Our major areas of focus include suicide prevention, trauma (such as PTSD) and depression

The initiative is jointly funded by UOW and the Commonwealth Government through the National Stronger Regions Fund. In July 2018, we opened the $3.5M MIND the GaP mental health and wellbeing facility in the Shoalhaven community, to bring together healthcare professionals, researchers and frontline support services. Located on our Shoalhaven Campus at West Nowra, it includes research, consultation and assessment rooms, meeting spaces, a 60-seat conference and training room, outdoor courtyard and children’s play area.

The initiative is led by Shoalhaven City Council and the University of Wollongong together with a consortium of local and community partners, including: Lifeline South Coast, Lifeline Australia Research Foundation, Coordinaire, the Illawarra Health and Medical Research Institute, the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISHLD), and Noah’s Shoalhaven.

Our opportunity

Today, we are seeking philanthropic support to further this ambitious work and create real and lasting impact in two core areas:

1. Community garden and indigenous space

Our MIND the GaP facility in Nowra provides both a therapeutic space as well as a home for outreach into the community, including cognitive behavioural therapy and bullying prevention in schools. It also provides opportunities for people to share their experiences of trauma and challenges to their mental wellbeing. Our ambition is to create a community garden and an indigenous space on the same site to support treatment, build confidence and self-esteem, and encourage people to come together.

Working closely with the people who use our services, we will create a new community garden to encourage them to grow their own fresh produce and take control over their lives. We will also provide land for an Indigenous space where members of the community who identify as being Indigenous can meet and receive care and treatment, in particular for those situations where a dedicated outdoor space might be more appropriate.

We are seeking funding of $30,000 to establish both spaces and create lasting benefits for the community.

2. Community-based research

We are also committed to seeking input from the general public of the Shoalhaven region to help shape the design of services. Our researchers will collaborate with community service teams to identify needs and develop and deliver new, practical initiatives in suicide prevention, traumatic stress responses and community resilience. For example, when someone is discharged from hospital following a mental health crisis, we will work with teams to provide support and after-care to reduce the risk of future setbacks.

The impact

With your support, the community gardens and research will help to:

“The Shoalhaven and wider communities present microcosms of the challenges people in regional and rural areas face. MIND the GaP will improve mental wellbeing services and community resilience in the Shoalhaven, while also delivering innovative regional strategies in mental health and well-being that will inform best practice in other parts of rural and regional Australia and internationally.”

Professor Alison Jones, UOW Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Health and Communities) and Executive Dean of the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health

“We are proud to be part of this innovative approach to mental health care delivery. By co-locating with health care providers and one of Australia’s leading Universities we will have access to the world’s best research and be able to put that research into practice to save lives.”

Stephen Long, Chair of Lifeline South Coast, a national charity providing 24-hour crisis support and suicide prevention services.

With your support, we can address mental health inequality in our region

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