La Trobe University: Innovative program tackles mental health

During a five-day intensive, students from a wide range of disciplines will come together for the ‘Rural Health Innovation Sprint’, bringing diverse perspectives to the issue of how to empower young people to improve mental health.

Lecturer at the La Trobe Rural Health School, Dr Brad Hodge, said the University is working closely with organisations across the region to develop the students’ skills in design thinking, community engagement, team development, communication, and evaluation techniques – while ultimately helping to improve young people’s lives.

“The experience we create in the Rural Health Innovation Sprint is challenging, and this is one of the key reasons it works – because everybody is giving it everything they have,” Dr Hodge said.

“Something incredibly powerful happens when you gather a group of people with diverse backgrounds and expertise together, really listen to each other and the community, and work together to address a common challenge.”

Dr Hodge said mental health services have been placed under significant pressure in recent years, and addressing these issues with young people and the whole community involved is vital.

“This is an exciting event for Albury-Wodonga, and an opportunity to co-design solutions that support young people to thrive. We cannot afford to wait until people are seeking crisis support, we need to make interventions early to ensure it doesn’t get to that point,” Dr Hodge said.

Wellness Support Coordinator from Wodonga’s Gateway Health, Aden Hemmerling, said the last few years have been particularly difficult for young people, especially those in rural and regional areas.

“Post-COVID we have seen an increase in young people still struggling with their emotional wellbeing, and experiencing anxiety, low moods, and difficulties connecting with others,” Mr Hemmerling said.

“We have also seen young people finding it hard to reengage with school after a long period of online education.”

Co-founder of local group Survivors of Suicide and Friends, Stuart Baker, said he and his wife Annette set up the community organisation in the wake of a terrible personal loss, and know all too how challenging the issue of mental health can be.

“The imperative for collaboration and coordination between different organisations striving for mental health reform and capacity building within our communities cannot be overstated,” Mr Baker said.

The Rural Health Innovation Sprint will run from 27 June to 1 July at La Trobe’s Albury-Wodonga campus, and include opportunities for students to engage with community and local partner organisations, develop and test prototype solutions and showcase their findings at a major event on Friday night.

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