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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.

Presenting our community projects and participation at the Department of Health Diverse Communities Team round table

The Department of Health (DoH), Diverse Communities’ Team, in response to its ongoing alliance with VTMH, invited VTMH to participate in a number of events.

VTMH was invited to present at the DoH monthly lunch and learn seminar (organised by the Diverse Communities’ Team) on our experience of engaging with communities. The session was attended by about 40 persons from a variety of divisions within the DoH. These included public servants within the Mental Health & Wellbeing Division from Policy Officers to Directors.

VTMH was also invited to a roundtable which focused on the Diverse Communities Team’s engagement approach for the development of the Framework and Blueprint for Action. The Roundtable focused on the who, how, when and where the team should engage with community members and the sector. This session was attended by many key stakeholders.

VTMH has since been invited to participate in the Diverse Communities’ Mental Health & Wellbeing Working Group. This group has been established in line with the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, to ‘provide expert advice and guidance on the development of a diverse communities’ mental health and wellbeing framework and a blueprint for action’ (chapter 21.6.2, page 261, volume 3).

Workshop: New mental health and wellbeing outcomes and performance framework

On Friday, 13 May 2022 a workshop was held via Zoom to inform design of the new mental health and wellbeing outcomes and performance framework. 

This workshop was one of a series of workshops facilitated by Today Design for stakeholders across the mental health and wellbeing sector. The first workshops with consumers and carers have been held. Insights from consumer and carer workshops will guide discussion and activities in these sector workshops. 

Naomi Chapman from VTMH was invited to the session in May to contribute key themes and priorities to develop a shared vision for the future of mental health and wellbeing in Victoria. 

These themes included an understanding of intersectionality (where people are accepted into a mental health service in their entirety; they don’t have to pick or suppress various aspects of their identity), and how to hold hope for people with a lived experience of mental distress.

VTMH’s Lived Experience Community of Practice

On Monday, 6 December 2021 a small but committed group of people met to kick off VTMH’s Lived Experience Community of Practice (LE CoP). We discussed how to create a culturally safe space and identified our top three values – collaboration, diversity and advocacy.

Our second meeting on Thursday, 7 April 2022 focused on a presentation given by VTMH’s Consumer Consultant, Naomi Chapman, entitled “Dare to Care – Compassion in the Workplace.”

The overarching group objectives include:

  • How lived experience practitioners with diverse voices influence practice within their organisations and the mental health sector.
  • 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 group members represent various voices within the mental health system including those from culturally and linguistically diverse (CaLD) communities, those with experiences of migration, youth, and the LGBTIQA+ communities.

Our next meeting was held via Teams on Thursday, 9 June. It was facilitated by Kath Currey, Lived Experience Coordinator at NEAMI, and the topic was “Exploring diverse backgrounds and experiences in Lived Experience practice (the different ways in which we utilise a lived experience of diversity in our roles).”

Facilitators from VTMH are Naomi Chapman and Abie Jazi.

Darebin and YCH Project

VTMH was invited to collaborate with Darebin Council and Your Community Health (YCH) to co-design a project with community members from East Preston and Reservoir. The goals of the project were to develop a neighbourhood program that strengthens emotional and social well-being of the two communities.

VTMH’s involvement in this tri-partnership program was two fold: a) to develop a framework with the Community Advisory group members for the training and b) to deliver the training to community volunteers. This phase of the project has been completed as of June 2022. The project is now primarily led by YCH.

Star Health Partnership

VTMH has been in partnership with Star Health since 2020.

Over the last 2 years, VTMH has assisted Star Health to employ numerous strategies to support their cultural responsiveness practices and meet their identified goals to embed these measures. Some of these are: 

  • Workforce capacity building including workshops and reflective conversations;
  • Provision of resources;
  • Refinement of Star Health assessment tools;
  • Mentorship of their project leads (Anna Browne and Dominic Hwang).

For the final year of the partnership (2022-2023) we are planning to deliver a ‘Train the Trainer’ program for Star Health. It is hoped this will help towards a successful and sustainable model for implementation of cultural responsiveness across the organisation.