Indigenous health projects get funding boost

2 November 2023
First Nations-led projects to improve mental and physical health
Three Indigenous-led projects to boost health in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have received funding support from the Australian Government.

Three Indigenous health projects led by teams at the University of Sydney will share in over $3.2 million as part of an initiative by the Australian Government to help find new ways to reduce chronic disease, improve mental health, help people quit smoking and increase resilience in kids.

The projects are focused on involving First Nations people from their inception, and listening to the lived experience of the communities and peoples involved at every stage.

Professor Robyn Ward, Executive Dean and Pro Vice-Chancellor Medicine and Health, congratulated the recipients, noting the impact that Indigenous-led and community informed projects can have on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

“These projects have the potential to address areas of critical need for Indigenous Australians. We welcome the support from the Australian Government to support our researchers and communities. Working together is the best way to make a difference for mental health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” says Professor Ward.

Connecting our Way

The Connecting our Way project received over $900,000 to build confidence in children in emotional regulation, mindfulness, and managing emotions at high-risk times. The program will be customisable to local needs and teach children how to de-escalate, soothe and respond appropriately, to create a trauma-informed, culturally infused sense of belonging that improves Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s mental health and wellbeing, by building their connections to identity, culture and community.

“Our Indigenous-led research team comprises early and mid-career Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers excited to do research this way – true community-led co-design,” says Associate Professor Michelle Dickson, a Darkinjung/Ngarigo woman and Academic Director of the Poche Centre for Indigenous Health at the University of Sydney.

“Fundamental to this project will be our co-design phase, where our team will work with community partners, parents and carers and services staff. The whole project embeds culture at its core and building relationships as a foundational stone.

“Our project will also employ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community researchers at each pilot site, who will be supported with appropriate role models, mentoring and access to professional development and training, offered through Investigator Candace Angelo’s Indigenous Health Programs in the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney.”


Co-led by Dr Sarira El-Den from the University of Sydney and Professor Faye McMillan from the University of Technology Sydney, “Creating Mental Health Safe Spaces in Pharmacy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Consumers: Educating the primary care workforce in Mental Health First Aid (The MH-SPACE Trial)” aims to address the disproportionate lack of adequate mental health support available to First Nations Australians by upskilling the frontline, primary care workforce, namely community pharmacists – who are highly accessible and trusted healthcare professionals.

The project received $1.8 million in funding. It has been co-designed with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experts with expertise and experience in pharmacy, co-design and mental health, from design through to evaluation. Thereby it will ensure that pharmacists’ training is culturally informed, sensitive to, and reflective of the needs of First Nations peoples.

“Pharmacists are integral to the health of their communities, and in many regional centres are some of the few remaining face-to-face health experts,” says Dr El-Den.

“It makes sense to empower community pharmacists to confidently help people in need of mental health support. There is a need to improve and strengthen both mental health and Indigenous health education in health curricula. So, ultimately, this project will contribute to filling these gaps by upskilling the frontline primary care community pharmacy workforce to deliver culturally safe mental health support, first aid and referral.”

Social Wellbeing Program

This project aims to develop a culturally-based social and emotional wellbeing program for young First Nations people in prison, to better deal with the underlying causes of unsocial behaviours, such as intergenerational trauma. It received over $470,000 in funding and is led by Dr Michael Doyle, is a Bardi man and Associate Professor in the Central Clinical School of the Sydney Medical School.

"It is important that, we listen and learn from Aboriginal colleagues who work with these issues on a day to day basis and then, respectfully use those lessons to inform program design," says Associate Professor Doyle.

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