Detail of Aboriginal Painting

Philanthropy supports new Indigenous healthcare model

22 May 2020
Healthcare qualification’s social and emotional approach
Donation enables social and emotional wellbeing and scholarships to become part of Indigenous health course.

The University’s Graduate Diploma in Indigenous Health Promotion is adopting a major mental health component, thanks to the generosity of philanthropists.

 With the core aim of reducing youth suicide in Indigenous communities, Peter and Sandra Cadwallader’s donation is the major component in an estimated $10.6 million initiative, jointly financed through the University of Sydney’s co-funding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, and a federal government education fund. 

The gift will develop a mental health curriculum for the existing Graduate Diploma in Indigenous Health Promotion, which has run for 21 years and qualified more than 240 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. The gift will enable the additional employment of a team of three new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academic and professional staff to develop and run the program.

The Cadwalladers’ gift will also fund scholarships for the new graduate diploma to be offered to 120 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students over a four-year period. Support for additional travel and accommodation is expected to be received through federal government funding.

The most recent evidence creates a compelling case for the importance of a specialised approach to mental health in Aboriginal communities, reflecting an Aboriginal holistic understanding of life and health - called ‘Social and Emotional Wellbeing’.

Social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB) refers to cultural, spiritual and social wellbeing of the individual, family and community. It also considers environmental, ideological, political, social, economic, mental and physical factors. Rather than considering mental health in isolation, a social and emotional wellbeing approach provides a more effective, all-encompassing understanding of the myriad factors involved. Evidence indicates that this approach has better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. 

“A failure to acknowledge differences between Indigenous and non-Indigenous notions of health, lack of awareness of the ongoing effects of colonisation and poor cross-cultural communications are just some of the obstacles to successful healthcare,” said Professor Lisa Jackson-Pulver, Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategies and Services).

“There is an under-use of mainstream mental health services by Indigenous people often due to stigma, further complicated by people often preferring to see health professionals from the same cultural background.”

The program builds on the success of the current graduate diploma which has qualified students from urban, regional, rural and remote regions across Australia. Most graduates return to their communities to implement the programs they developed during the course and approximately 80 percent of students receive a promotion after graduation.

“We continually strive to improve our teaching to prepare students for the reality of the workplace. I am proud that the University is partnering with the Cadwalladers to produce healt​hcare workers who will be even better qualified to deliver tailored health care to meet their communities’ needs,” said Dr Michael Spence, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Sydney. 

“Indigenous Australians are nearly three times more likely to be psychologically distressed than non-Indigenous Australians. Early intervention, prevention and the right treatment can save lives. Recognising the social and cultural factors that contribute to health and wellbeing are essential to their success,” said Dr Michelle Dickson, Darkinjung/Ngarigo Australian Aboriginal and Program Director of the Graduate Diploma.

“For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people health services are fragmented, with access often a major barrier. There is also a massive shortage of university skilled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health professionals. This initiative will contribute to building that workforce across Australia.”

I am proud that the University is partnering with the Cadwalladers to produce healt​hcare workers who will be even better qualified to deliver tailored health care to meet their communities’ needs.
Dr Michael Spence Vice-Chancellor and Principal

New components of the graduate diploma will include units on how to:

  •          analyse data and case studies relevant to the community
  •          plan and evaluate mental health and social and emotional wellbeing programs and initiatives, designed to meet   specific community needs
  •          undertake community engagement, including through social media and communication campaigns.

Based on employer feedback the course will be delivered in six intensive three-day blocks of learning over the course of a year. This allows students to live and work remotely while studying in Sydney. It is the only Indigenous Health Promotion graduate diploma in the country available in this form.

Karina Clarkson who completed the Graduate Diploma of Indigenous Health in 2016 said, “The diploma gave me the knowledge and skills to go on to achieve two promotions and a management position and several of my colleagues have also done the course. I currently work for the Mental Health Commission of Western Australia supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to improve their skills and qualifications in the workforce.”

“Over the past few years I have identified a lack of social and emotional wellbeing prevention programs, especially those tailored to meet the needs of Aboriginal individuals, families and communities. This newly developed program will provide an opportunity to build the capacity of the Aboriginal SEWB workforce to competently address these gaps and work towards reducing the highest rates of suicide among a specific population group globally.”

Sandra and Peter Cadwallader have a history of philanthropy aimed at developing self-esteem and economic independence, saying “we are particularly keen to support people who have faced disadvantage, and who are striving to develop their own skills, knowledge and expertise”.

In 2007 they created Many Rivers a not-for-profit microfinancing and microenterprise development organisation that supports aspiring business owners, with a particular focus on Indigenous business owners. It operates in 38 regions across Australia including working with Indigenous communities in remote locations in Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

In 2018 they established the Sandra Cadwallader Indigenous Economics Scholarships covering the costs of an economics student for each year of their degree.

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