Author: vtmh

Reflections from our registrar, Nivanka, on her year at VTMH 

I began my work at VTMH in February 2022, but it was a role that I had dreamed of since I was a junior doctor fresh out of medical school. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in transcultural psychiatry and unfortunately such training roles are currently very limited in the public mental health sector. I was so happy when I found out that I got the job!

Sometimes when you have such high expectations, it’s difficult for the daily realities of a job to measure up. But my year at VTMH has been everything I imagined and more. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from the expertise of my colleagues, from community leaders and advocates and from other clinicians. 

For me, one of the biggest takeaways from this year is the importance of relationship building. For any project to succeed, there needs to be trust and safety in the relationships between team members and with external stakeholders. I’ve learnt so much from the way my colleagues conduct community consultations – how they listen, how they acknowledge power differences, their warmth, the richness of their stories and the stories they are able to elicit from others. They bring their whole selves to their roles including their own lived experience. They advocate with passion and heart. They are system thinkers and see the bigger picture. 

I hope that I’m able to take all this with me and embody such qualities in my future practice. I will miss this team dearly and I am so immensely grateful for all the lessons they have taught me. 

Another successful year of seminars for VTMH

VTMH continued our seminar schedule into 2022, with our seminars continuing to be held online via Zoom.

We held 8 seminars between March and November this year and were thrilled to have the speakers join us.

It has been a wonderful experience for VTMH, holding these seminars online and being able to reach people around parts of Victoria and Australia, that otherwise would not have been able to attend our face to face seminars in Fitzroy.

We started off in March with a discussion about Peer Supervision for Language Interpreters: Learnings from a Pilot Program. Facilitators of this VTMH program, Lew Hess and Radhika Santhanam-Martin discussed the learnings from this space along with interpreters Nari Kim and Susan Esmaili who participate in this reflective group for interpreters.

In April, our seminar focused on the VTMH and Spiritual Health Association’s ongoing Spirituality & Diversity Discussion space.

June hosted cohealth and a presentation on the reflections from their community led bicultural workers project.

July saw us delve back into the spirituality space with a presentation from advocates in this area titled ‘Spirituality, spiritual care, and mental health: What’s the correlation?’.

In August we heard from Dr. Trini Abascal, Rafaela Lopez OAM & Cristy Abela on the strengths and resilience of immigrants.

In September we hosted Independent Mental Health Advocacy (IMHA) and heard about their work in partnership with consumers towards a recovery and rights based mental health system.

October saw us hear from Ubuntu Mental Health and The Me + Mental Health Theater Production Project.

We ended the year with our most well attended seminar for the year, titled ‘Understanding the evidence and practicing cultural curiosity when working with children from CALD backgrounds’.

We thank everyone who attended and of course the speakers for so generously donating their time.

Our total audience numbers for seminars in 2022 was 483 and we are so happy that we were able to deliver important information to such a broad group of viewers across Australia.

Our seminars will recommence in the first half of 2023.

To ensure you are notified of upcoming seminars, please add yourself to the VTMH mailing list here

Staff Retreat Day

In October, the VTMH team came together with Education Changemakers for a team culture retreat day.

The team, with no knowledge of what the day would hold in store, met at Free to Feed in North Fitzroy. What transpired was a day of story-sharing, cooking, and connection to each other and the values and pillars which guide our work.

The VTMH team were honoured to connect with the values, mission, chefs and stories within the Free to Feed team and enjoyed preparing and sharing lunch together.

We thank Free to Feed for hosting us and the team at Education Changemakers for facilitating a wonderful retreat day.

Highlighting the history of the Mental Health and Cultural Diversity Community of Practice at TheMHS 2022

To date, the Mental Health and Cultural Diversity Community of Practice (MHCD CoP), convened by VTMH, has supported a diverse cohort of practitioners across a range of settings, including those beyond the mental health sector, to come together to exchange ideas, thoughts and experiences regarding a broad range of issues relating to cultural diversity and mental health.

VTMH chose this model to offer the workforce a space to have conversations about cultural diversity and mental health, to share the successes and challenges they face when putting their learning and knowledge into practice, and to support clinicians to navigate complexities in their work. We believe this model is helping to build bridges and connections amongst members, find common ground, and encourage robust conversations about cultural diversity and mental health that may not usually be explored.

After having facilitated the MHCD CoP for almost three years, conveners Shehani De Silva and Kimberley Wriedt had the opportunity to share their learnings at the Mental Health Services Conference (TheMHS) in Sydney in October this year.

Their presentation, entitled “Learning together: How has a transcultural mental health service approached a community of practice model”, explored the evolution of the CoP program at VTMH, and how we believe the CoP model is a supportive approach for building a critically reflective workforce, which is vital for a culturally safe and responsive mental health system.

For more information about the MHCD CoP visit

MHPN Book Club Podcast

Radhika and Nivanka from VTMH recorded a session for the MHPN Book Club podcast in September, 2022.

In this episode of Book Club, they explored Judith Herman’s ‘Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror’ (1992). Radhika and Nivanka reflected on the book’s powerful themes of witnessing and remembering trauma; how it has inspired a ‘new way of seeing and knowing’ in their practice; and why the ideas presented are more relevant than ever for Australian society and mental health practice. 

You can access the podcast here

VTMH’s Lived Experience Community of Practice

VTMH’s Education and Service Development Consultant Abie Jazi and Lived Experience Consultant Naomi Chapman have facilitated three further meetings of VTMH’s Lived Experience Community of Practice (VTMH’s LE CoP) since our last newsletter in July of this year.

The objectives of the group are to explore and expand understandings of:

1. How lived experience practitioners with diverse voices influence practice within their organisations and the mental health sector.

2. Systemic barriers and enablers that face lived experience practitioners from diverse backgrounds when trying to contribute or generate change. This will also become a relevant source of knowledge for the Department of Health (DoH).

The LE CoP membership benefits from a diversity of voices within the mental health system with representation from culturally and linguistically diverse and migrant communities, young people and LGBTIQA+ communities.

The group met in August, October and December online. The sessions have included a presentation by Naomi Chapman entitled “Challenging stigma of mental illness”; a presentation by Maria Dimopoulos on her recovery journey and the impact this has had on her employability; and facilitated discussion by Naomi on the topic “Persistent Negative Voices – from surviving to thriving.”

VTMH are excited to continue offering this valuable learning space in 2023 and hope to see continued growth in its membership.

Our work with Headspace

This year VTMH has worked alongside Headspace Dandenong/Hastings sites to pilot a brief and contained service development engagement to support their developing workforce in relation to culturally responsive practice.

The complexities of current funding arrangements and capacity consideration from both organisations rendered a whole of organisational partnership (VTMH’s Partners in Diversity Program) not possible this year.  However, collaboration in a short-term local level project specifically focused on localised needs at the Dandenong/Hastings sites was possible with reference to:

  • Establishing foundational knowledge and practice in cultural responsiveness
  • Establishing policies and procedures at a local level to ensure policies support practice
  • Support to establish a reflective practice culture
  • Implement activities /actions to sustain this culturally responsive lens into the culture of these identified sites. ie. staff orientation models

In close collaboration with the Dandenong/Hastings leadership team, VTMH provided a series of face to face and online workshops, provided guidance to a newly established Policy and Procedure taskforce and co-facilitated a number of reflective practice sessions with Headspace staff.

The project concludes with a brief evaluation to be completed by the end of 2022.

Better Health Network ‘Train the Trainer’ program

Star Health have been engaged with VTMH as part of our Partners in Diversity Program since 2020.

Recently Star Health, Central Bayside Community Health Services and Connect Health & Community amalgamated under the banner of Better Health Network (BHN).

The BHN network have enthusiastically extended support to continue the VTMH – Star Health partnership to progress the strategies Star Health have employed to embed cultural responsiveness practices in their organisation and work.

For this final year of the partnership, VTMH is supporting BHN by delivering a ‘Train the Trainer’ (TtT) program as one mechanism to extend and embed cultural responsiveness practice within the broader BHN network.

The TtT program was launched in September 2022 with an orientation session. This has been followed by the first two workshops. Further workshops and reflective sessions, to support the trainers as they begin to facilitate the training, will take place in 2023.

It is anticipated that the future BHN trainers in Cultural Responsiveness will be ready to begin supporting the broader BHN staff base to develop knowledge and skills in cultural responsiveness in the second half of 2023.

VTMH Rural and Regional Approach Implementation Project

Over the past 12 months, VTMH has been concentrating on strengthening our relationship with the rural and regional mental health sector through our VTMH Rural and Regional Approach Implementation Project.

The main aim of this project is to ensure that VTMH’s programs and services take into account the unique needs of the rural and regional mental health and wellbeing sector and that their perspectives are included and considered across all of VTMH’s programs and services.

Recently, we facilitated two Consultation Sessions with the VTMH Rural and Regional Liaison Group who represent each of the eight mental health and wellbeing services across rural and regional Victoria. The first session was well attended with representation from each of the rural and regional mental health and wellbeing services. The session generated enthusiastic discussion around commitment to engagement between VTMH and the rural and regional mental health and wellbeing sector. This included conversation around the benefits and the opportunities of this work, which will form part of the Terms of Reference for this group.

The second Consultation Session was held in late November and the aim of this session was to scope the current needs of the rural and regional mental health and wellbeing services in terms of capacity building and cultural responsiveness in the current context (reform, Covid, etc.); and identify barriers and enablers of the rural and regional services accessing VTMH programs and services.

VTMH will use the information gathered to make a set of organisational recommendations to embed into all of our programs and services. This will lead us into the next phase of this work which will be guided by the reflections shared during these sessions.

VTMH looks forward to continuing this valuable work with the rural and regional mental health and wellbeing services.

VTMH is expanding!

We currently have a vacancy available for a part time Education & Service Development Consultant (30.4 hours per week).

The successful candidate will be responsible for providing education and service development support to mental health services in Victoria’s public health system in order to improve quality of service delivery to people from diverse backgrounds.

Please visit the St Vincent’s Hospital careers page here to find out more about these exciting new roles.