The RFDS in SA/NT

Mental Health

RFDS Mental Health clinicians provide culturally appropriate in-field treatment of mild to moderate diagnosable mental illness to outback communities where there is little or no other clinical mental health service.

The regular consultations by RFDS staff have led to a significant reduction in the number of admissions of acute patients from these communities to Alice Springs Hospital.

Teams of clinicians visit communities on a weekly or fortnightly basis and deliver treatment strategies including cognitive behaviour therapy, narrative therapy, brief interventions, counselling, motivational interviewing and community development.

In 2015/16 RFDS Central Operations conducted 6,661 mental health consultations.

Graphic: Women with paintings

The women of Inkawenyerre, a small settlement in the Utopia community four hours by road north of Alice Springs, regularly take part in a different kind of mental health therapy, known as 'narrative therapy'.

Narrative therapy taps into the centuries-old tradition among Aboriginal people of story-telling and expression through art. Former RFDS Central Operations Mental Health Clinician Lynne Henderson, who spent many years working in Central Australia, says that at the family Urapuntja Clinic the women and the children take part. They recreate what is commonly seen on any given evening in an Aboriginal community - people sitting around the fire, relating to one another and telling stories.

"The activity is enjoyable for participants with group members often laughing and supporting one another as they tell stories and work on their painting – all while promoting good mental health living practice," Lynne says.

"To run a group using art and story-telling is going to be a much more successful way of teaching rather than a didactic stand and deliver lesson."

The RFDS Mental Health Outreach Program conducted more than 6,000 consultations in isolated communities in Central Australia in 2015/16, providing culturally appropriate in-field treatment of mild to moderate diagnosable mental illness to outback communities where there is little or no other clinical mental health service.

Outcomes of the program have been significant. There has been a reduction of admissions of 'acute' patients from these communities to the Mental Health Inpatient Unit at the Alice Springs Hospital. Visiting communities on a weekly or fortnightly basis, the multi-disciplinary RFDS team of clinicians deliver effective treatment strategies including cognitive behavioural therapy, narrative therapy, brief interventions, counselling, motivational interviewing and community development.

Paintings by Aboriginal elders are often used in the narrative therapy to insert a mental health message and to guide the group to developing artwork with a message that will encourage healthy living.

"The goal of this group activity is prevention and harm minimisation in relation to the impact of mental illness. It is actually psycho-education but presented in an enjoyable way which is culturally appropriate," Lynne says.