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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.

Introduction of new team members – Nivanka, Steph & Abie

Early in 2022, the VTMH team welcomed three new team members.

Nivanka De Silva is our new Psychiatry Registrar for 2022 to 2023. Nivanka has a Doctor of Medicine from the University of New South Wales and is in the process of completing a Master of Psychiatry through the University of Melbourne.

Nivanka is excited to be working with VTMH and looks forward to supporting VTMH to increase its contribution to the sector on institutional racism and structural barriers in mental health.

In her own time, she enjoys indulging her love for poetry and visual arts.

To read more about Nivanka, read her profile here

Stephanie Shavin (who goes by Steph), joined us as an Education & Service Development Consultant at the beginning of this year. Before joining VTMH, Steph worked as a Counsellor Advocate and Senior Practitioner with Foundation House alongside adults, children and families of refugee background and those seeking asylum who have survived experiences of torture and trauma.

At home Steph is kept busy with her 2 young children; Esther and Hugo.

To read more about Steph, read her profile here

Abie Jazi also joined us as an Education & Service Development Consultant at the beginning of this year. Abie is a psychiatric nurse, social worker and midwife with qualifications across mental health nursing, social work, and education. One of his primary interests is building clinician skills to address cultural and complex needs at the point of admission or during initial assessment in mental health settings.

To read more about Abie, read his profile here

Spotlight on: VTMH Team Member – Shehani De Silva

This is a new section to our twice yearly e-newsletter. We realise that while many of you reading this do work with some members of our team, many of you don’t know who we are!

We would like to be a little more personal and share some information about each of our team members in our e-newsletters.

First up is our beloved Shehani De Silva.

Name: Shehani De Silva             

Job title: Education & Service Development Consultant

Qualifications: Bachelors (Honours) in Psychology

Time at VTMH: completing 9 years in 2022

Tell us your work story: Prior to migration I worked in the mental health sector in Sri Lanka. Amongst others, this included working with UNICEF Colombo psychosocial program which was aimed at working with mental health issues of communities affected by the civil conflict. After migrating to New Zealand, I had the opportunity to work with a community based mental health service and also as a as a counsellor/advocate with Wellington refugees at Survivors Trust; a leading mental health and wellbeing service for people from refugee backgrounds living in Aotearoa.

What were you doing professionally prior to working at VTMH? I coordinated the transcultural mental health program at Action with Disability within ethnic communities (ADEC) an advocacy based organisation set up to support culturally diverse people with disability and their carers.

What attracted you to this role at VTMH? During my time at ADEC, I worked closely with VTMH (at the time known as VTPU) on many projects in relation to diversity. Whilst partnering with different consultants on different projects  at VTMH,  I also got to know each of them very well. I was always taken by the quality of work at VTMH and the nuanced and careful thought put into each project. When a position became vacant, I didn’t think twice.

Proudest achievement/s while working at VTMH: There are many, but what stands out most is working with carers from culturally diverse backgrounds to support them to share their carer stories and help bring them to life in the form of videos. What stood out most in this project was the fact that we were able to produce a resource in the carers “language.” The project was selected as a finalist for Victoria’s Public Healthcare Awards.

What do you hope for and envision for the future of VTMH? To continue to be the leading transcultural mental health service in the state.

What do you enjoy most about your role? What I enjoy most is the collaborative work undertaken with diverse groups of people, including organisations and community members. I also enjoy the ability to be creative in this role.

What do you like to do in your free time? I like to watch Netflix and chat with my mother and daughter. At present however all my time is taken up with being across the political, social and economic issues affecting  Sri Lanka.

What’s the last book you read? Australia Day by Stan Grant

What’s the first concert you ever attended? Bon Jovi

What’s the next place on your travel bucket list? Travelling around Australia

Tell us something we might be surprised to hear about you? I am a fan of the TikTok app!

Successful oration evening remembers late VTMH manager Daryl Oehm, and highlights contemporary challenges in transcultural mental health

VTMH was pleased to hold the Inaugural Daryl Oehm Oration, on the evening of Wednesday, 18 May 2022.

Inaugural Oration speaker, Azmeena Hussain OAM, spoke to the theme of the evening, Struggles of marginalised identities and their precarious existence, by weaving together her personal and professional experiences in the field of law, to link advocacy, cultural responsiveness, organisation reforms, mental health service provision, legal supports and lived experience in the one narrative.

We were also grateful to Mitch Tambo, Australian world music star and proud Gimilaraay man, who provided a number of musical performances, and to our MC for the night, Dr. Rasha Rahman.

Collectively they ensured the evening was one that resonated with the work of VTMH, and thoughtfully recognized the contributions to transcultural mental health in Victoria by the late Daryl Oehm (VTMH Manager, 2008-2018).

Thank you to all that joined the event on the evening. We hope this will be an event we can continue to offer to the sector in future.

The Spirituality & Diversity Discussion Project   

Spiritual Health Association (SHA) in partnership with Victorian Transcultural Mental Health (VTMH) has been running The Spirituality & Diversity Discussion Project since 2019. As part of this project, reflective peer group sessions have been facilitated for mental health practitioners to integrate spiritual themes into their practices.  

Over the past few months, 3 sessions were held with the specific topics:

  • Psychiatry and spirituality: Why are they such uncomfortable bedfellows?
  • Mental Health Recovery: Where is the healing, humility, and hope?
  • A crisis of meaning: Spiritual emergence or spiritual emergency?     

These sessions were fully booked out and participants were very appreciative to have a space to discuss the important role of spirituality in mental health.

Another session is scheduled for Tuesday, 9 August 2022 with the topic: ‘Prayer, meditation, or medication: What’s your preference?’                           

This session is now fully booked but please do keep an eye out on our website for booking details for future sessions.

Participation by VTMH at the ‘Mental Health and Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) Integrated Framework (Guidance) Sessions’ 

The Department of Health (DoH) is developing an integrated treatment, care and support program for clients with co-occurring needs: Guidance for Victorian mental health and wellbeing and Alcohol and Other Drugs (AOD) services.  

In doing this, the DoH’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Division sought expertise from across the mental health, wellbeing and AOD sectors, including people with diverse lived and living experiences.

VTMH was pleased to participate in these three workshops, which assisted in identifying key themes, and enablers to support the delivery of integrated treatment, care and support across communities. 

The draft Guidance sets out a vision for integrated treatment, care and support that will meet the expectations of people with co-occurring needs, and those of their families and supporters. The DoH and sector peaks believe this is only the first step in the journey to transform our ways of working across, and within, the mental health and wellbeing and AOD systems.

The department aims to share final Guidance via a full day workshop “Working better together: A shared vision for AOD and Mental Health” in July, 2022. VTMH Education and Service Development Consultant Abie Jazi will represent the Team at this event.