Boosting health workers' skills

With lockdown taking an emotional toll on Victorians, La Trobe University has been making sure health workers have the skills they need to identify and manage their clients’ mental health concerns.

More than 300 students this semester enrolled in La Trobe’s Graduate Certificate in Mental Health, taking advantage of the Federal Government’s COVID-19 training relief package, which offered discounted courses for workers whose roles were impacted by COVID-19.

Students in the online course include nurses, social workers, paramedics, occupational therapists, school counsellors, family violence workers, child protection workers, physiotherapists and even podiatrists.

Course coordinator Kate Emond said health professionals from every discipline encountered mental illness in their work and knowing how to respond was vital to their clients’ treatment and recovery.

“There’s still a lot of misunderstanding about mental health, even in the health sector,” Ms Emond said.

“If someone living with depression goes to a physiotherapist and receives exercises to do at home, but a symptom of their depression is poor motivation, they won’t be able to engage with their health care.

“We need to develop strategies that look at the patient holistically.”

Ms Emond said the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to isolate made it more important than ever for health professionals to know how to respond to the signs of mental illness.

Lockdown meant medical appointments were one of the few social interactions Victorians could keep, which made these occasions a rare chance for health professionals to identify concerns about someone’s mental health, she said.

“One of the protective factors in recovering from mental illness is a strong social network, and if that is suddenly taken away and a person is more isolated, they’re at risk of deteriorating.”

Bendigo maternal child health nurse Stacy Boswood enrolled in the graduate certificate to learn how to better respond to mental health concerns.

“We see women experiencing postnatal depression and anxiety, but these issues have certainly increased because of COVID-19.  There’s a lot of anxiety around the pandemic, so this course is hugely valuable to my work,” said Stacy, who also completed her maternal child health qualification at La Trobe.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan said the Government supported universities to roll out short, online courses focusing on areas of national priority such as nursing, teaching, counselling, IT and allied health as part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our short course initiative was so successful we will make microcredentials a permanent feature of higher education,” Mr Tehan said.

“Microcredentials allow Australians to upskill, learn new skills and add long-term career value. They are also an opportunity for universities to lead globally with a pivot towards a new delivery of higher education for a transformed economy.

“COVID-19 and its fallout will impact mental health, and we welcome better qualified health professionals with the skills to help our nation address this challenge.

Although the Government’s relief package has ended, students wishing to enrol in the Graduate Certificate in Mental Health may be eligible for a limited number of subsidised Commonwealth Supported Places (CSP) in 2021.

Media Contact: Mark Kearney – M.Kearney@latrobe.edu.au – 0448 964 272

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