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Gamilaraay woman works to strengthen mob mental health

Rachael Knowles -

Gamilaraay grandmother, Georgina O'Neill, has graduated Charles Sturt University's (CSU) Djirruwang program with a Bachelor of Health Science in Mental Health.

Hailing from claypan country, O'Neill was born and raised in Walgett, NSW and now lives in Wagga Wagga, NSW.

A mother of two and grandmother of seven with a wealth of experience in Aboriginal health, O'Neill has worked as an Aboriginal Health Worker with the Murrumbidgee Local Health District for eight years.

Since graduating from the program in 2018, O'Neill has worked as a Mental Health Team Leader at the Riverina Medical and Dental Aboriginal Corporation, putting her degree to good use.

O'Neill was drawn to working in Aboriginal health from personal experience.

"Health drew me in when I lost my mother and father both to health issues ... [I was drawn] to getting our people educated to go in, get checked, make sure you're getting the right food and all that," O'Neill said.

"Mental health stuck in my head when my Aunty was going through a difficult time with her children that had mental health issues.

"Her and my mum would talk on the phone about her daughter and Mum would be on the phone trying to support her the best way she could.

"Her and Mum had that close relationship ... when Mum passed away Aunty didn't have that person to talk to."

O'Neill felt a responsibility to step up and ensure she could support her family through mental health struggles.

"I ignored [my] mental health and pushed it aside. But, really deep down its everyone's problems."

"When family members start to get affected by it ... I could see that, and having that understanding I [could help]."

CSU's Djirruwang program has been active for 27 years.

Program Director, Associate Professor Faye McMillan, said it's an important cog in the mental health system, particularly for First Nations Peoples.

"The course has been collaboratively designed with community-based organisations and the mental health sectors specifically for Indigenous students," Professor McMillan said.

"Graduates of the course have the skills, knowledge, understanding and attitudes that are required for a career as an Indigenous mental health worker situated within their community or mainstream mental health services.

"Charles Sturt University is committed to making a lasting and positive impact in Indigenous communities, and Georgina is just one of our many graduates doing precisely that."

O'Neill, now working in an Aboriginal health service, is able to help her community care for their mental health.

"We see [it] with clients' family members who are affected by this ... their grandson or children may be going through it and don't understand it and they need help.

"It is a big burden on people, and people don't understand. Our community [doesn't] understand unless they are living it."

"My Mum and Dad taught me ... you have this knowledge, you give it and you share it ... tell our people it's not shame, get out and talk to someone."

With COVID-19 sweeping across NSW at an exponential rate, self-isolation and prevention methods are in full swing, which see many isolated from mob.

"We're concerned about it with our clients, but we try and help as much as we can. We ring them [as much as they need]. Those that can't get on the phone, we can do home visits ... but we keep our distance. But we need to see how they're doing, because if you can't get them on the phone, it's a worry.

"Me now, thinking about all of this, it's brought us back to how I grew up. The realisation of [the need to] give them a phone call, give them a message to see how they're going.

"You get so wrapped up in your own little world, when you're busy and doing what you have to do and your own family."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental ill-health, call or visit the online resources below:

Lifeline â€" 13 11 14, lifeline.org.au

Beyond Blue â€" 1300 224 636, beyondblue.org.au/forumsÂ

MensLine â€" 1300 789 978

Kids Helpline 1800 551 800

Suicide Call Back Service â€" 1300 659 467

Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet â€" healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au

By Rachael Knowles

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