Monday, 6 October 2014

Indigenous health focus

It’s a long way from Bangalore in India to Gippsland but Dr Anton Isaacs has identified some synergies.

His work in public health in India helped improve the lives of many disadvantaged people and the same is happening in Gippsland’s Indigenous community.

Dr Isaacs, a qualified medical practitioner who lives in Warragul with his wife and two children, has worked with the Monash University Department of Rural and Indigenous Health (MUDRIH) in Moe for seven years.

A researcher and lecturer, he has been awarded the 2014 Medicine, Nursing and Healthy Sciences Faculty ECR (Early Career Researchers) Publication Prize for Social and Educational Research. His publication was titled “Help seeking by Aboriginal men who are mentally unwell: A pilot study”.
As part of his PhD research, Dr Isaacs developed a Koori men’s health day. The outcome has seen four Gippsland Koori men secure funding for, and now run, that pilot program, started by Dr Isaacs with the help of colleagues and the local Koori community.

“When we finished implementing it, the men took over which is the outcome I wanted,” he said.  “I would like to see it run monthly around Gippsland rather than two-monthly.”

Dr Anton Isaacs and five men from the Koori Men's Health Day team
Team work: Dr Anton Isaacs (back left) from MUDRIH in Moe with members of the Gippsland Koori Men’s Health team (from left) Tony Carson, Cliffy Wandin, Berwyn Lampitt (LRH) and Paul Cruickshank (LRH) with front, Rex Solomon

He was supported in his efforts by the Latrobe Regional Hospital mental health service, mental health nurse Berwyn Lampitt and the four Koori men – Laurie Marks, Cliffy Wandin, Rex Solomon and Tony Carson.

He said building trust in the Indigenous community was the key driver to success. A program for men was chosen because of the cultural difficulties in working with women too.

“My colleague Hilton Gruis, a community facilitator, has worked closely with the local Indigenous community and introduced me,” he added. “We identified three people as cultural consultants who in turn introduced me to other people within the community. Once you win trust, there are few issues with people coming forward. I have made many friends within the community which I value.”

Dr Isaacs would like to see every Aboriginal organisation run a men’s mental health program, similar to the local one which he believes is making a difference.

His work in Indigenous mental health has won national recognition. The Victorian Government asked him to evaluate its Aboriginal youth suicide prevention program and the West Australian Government has now asked for his help with its suicide prevention program which includes Aboriginal health.

He has received a $50,000 grant from Beyond Blue to conduct more research into mental health.
Dr Isaacs’ interest is developing services for niche areas in the health sector, especially in communities which are disadvantaged and under-serviced.

“There are two aspects to my work; designing the service then getting the people to come and use it,” he added.

He intends continuing to work in Aboriginal health. “When you work together you get the real success. That's my big hobby horse...get Aboriginal people and mainstream people working together and you get the best outcomes.”

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