No.6 Alan Heath Mental Health Liaison Officer and Stephen Ainsworth Clinical Leader Aboriginal Mental Health NBMLHD.
Alan Heath and Stephen Ainsworth are trailblazing within our local mental health services; Stephen is the Clinical Leader Aboriginal Mental Health in the NBMLHD, and Alan is a mental health Liaison Officer in this team. These new roles are proving to be a holistic and compassionate service that deserves to grow.
Who are the people your organization was created for?
Our team is passionate about supporting First Nations people in the Nepean Blue Mountains health district who are working through times of mental distress or who come up on our radar as being vulnerable to mental illness
Can you share an example of how individuals have benefitted?
A perception of safety is evolving as Aboriginal people can now connect with Aboriginal clinicians and support workers to access mental health services. These services traditionally have not been perceived as safe for Aboriginal people because of traumatic historic events that have impacted the population. Our goal is to reveal, through our work, a new story that shows we in the mental health services can now be trusted.
We have helped individuals and families navigate the different supports in the area such as counseling, accommodation, the justice system and drug and alcohol. We also follow up with people as they return to the community after a hospital admission and support them as they develop their strengths and they are empowered to move forward with their lives.
What are the ways that people can connect with you?
People can contact or drop into the Lithgow Community Health Centre and request a meeting with Alan or contact the mental health line and ask for an aboriginal liaison staff member such as Alan to give them a phone call.
We are storytellers and orators, so people connect best with us by talking with us, or talking to someone trusted and asking that person to give us a call.
We are bound by confidentiality laws, knowing that a person's story is safe with us is very important. We also advise local services on how to respond in a culturally safe way when working with first nations people.
What strengths do you see revealed in the people you have supported?
A big one is resilience, it is evident that aboriginal people have faced incredible challenges over the last 231 years and we are still here!
It is so important to remind people of this strength, and through all the hardships experienced aboriginal people are still generous and share what we have with each other. Aboriginal people are survivors in the most profound sense, and all people are asking for when they come to us is a helping hand and a push in the right direction and then people thrive. And if people are still struggling, (because sometimes life is tough) then a person can reconnect with our support as they get back on their feet again to resume the roles they have within their family
Why did you choose to train in this sort of work?
Alan: I grew up around family and friends who had experienced a lot of trauma and the mental health challenges that go hand in hand with those experiences, so I developed a connection and understanding of the issues that were affecting people. I like being able to help someone get back on their feet and be able to navigate around their own life, and that is what drew me to this work. There is no better feeling than seeing someone out and about in the community on the mend, they got everything they needed and now they are back at work. That is the most rewarding part of the job.
Stephen: I think Alan summed it all up; to see someone back on their feet again is a great feeling.
How do you look after yourself?
Stephen: By spending time with my wife, family, friends, and my dogs (and riding my motorbike) and time spent not thinking about mental health issues. Time alone on my motorcycle is like heaven for me, it also gives me time to reflect on what’s happening in my life.
Alan: I am getting better at disconnecting when I am away from work, and I focus on my family, I keep things simple, I get out and about and I walk my dog
Stephen: Yeah and there are people in the community who are important to us, elders in the community, who we connect with to get grounded
What lessons have you learnt from your work?
We need to listen and connect at a pace that is driven by the individual seeking support and we supply as much cultural safety as we possibly can
It is important that we as Aboriginal workers share some of our story with people we support, we share where our belonging place is, and a bit of our journey, this comes naturally to us and helps trust develop…. we all have to share a little bit of ourselves, so we all know where we all fit together.
What is the most valuable piece of advice you would give to the readers right now?
Challenge self to go the extra mile when assisting someone and always be true to yourself. Learn to relax, leave your judgments behind, listen carefully and you will connect better with people, once they know that they are not alone in their struggles it can become very powerful in their healing and together we are able to build resilience through this connection.
Don’t take life for granted, sometimes you are going to fall down so try and have the right people around you who are going to help you stand up again.