Ngak Min Health showcases its unique approach to Indigenous youth mental health
In September, Ngak Min Health hosted its second Connection Event at Djarragun College in Gordonvale to celebrate World Infant, Child and Adolescent Mental Health Day. A range of mental health service providers gathered to learn about the unique services Ngak Min Health offers to Indigenous youth.
A concerning 31 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience very high levels of psychological distress. Boarding students are particularly at risk as they grapple with the challenges of learning away from home. In the past 18 months, Ngak Min has introduced several new social and emotional wellbeing spaces that have catered to over 200 Djarragun College students, significantly enhancing their SEWB program.
Charmaine Nichols, the General Manager emphasised, “It takes a village to provide these kids with the wrap-around, holistic support they need to thrive”. Given that Ngak Min has clients from 67 diverse communities, they have had to adapt their approach to ensure they meet the needs of each student.
“For at least 80 per cent of our students, English is their third or fourth language, so we had to tailor our program to cater to a variety of languages and cultural norms. This is what makes our service so unique,” Charmaine said.
Ngak Min has spent the last year refining their team of experts and improving their spaces, notably introducing two new yarning areas for student counselling.
The newest addition is a ‘campfire yarning circle’, developed using real sand, and a mural that celebrates shared history, connection to land and the strength of ancestral bonds. Visitors to the Connection Event were treated with a session in the circle by Counsellor, Anne-Marie Houston, who explained the significance of the new space, saying, “It’s a way to replicate tradition – a space where students can connect with each other in a way that’s comforting to them. It reminds them of home and their ties to community”.
The campfire yarning circle was just one of the innovative spaces showcased. Building on the experience, attendees were guided to another therapeutic space, this time with Counsellor Rebecca Godfrey. Designed as a sanctuary for students, the room radiated calmness, with soft fairy lights replacing the usual LED glare and walls decorated with comforting images. Plush cushions added to the room's warmth, with many visitors noting the overall sense of "calmness".
After soaking in the ambience of the counselling rooms, attendees took a deeper dive into the practical side of Ngak Min's services. The next session commenced with a 'mock appointment' with Dr Kate Murray and Nurse Practitioner, Melanie Dunstan. This session gave attendees a firsthand look at Ngak Min’s student engagement approach. Kate and Melanie demonstrated how they identify risk factors and signs of deteriorating mental health, detailing the comprehensive process each student undergoes to address and mitigate their concerns.
As the event concluded, Charmaine voiced her hope that the insights shared on the day would not only strengthen ties with other mental health providers but also inspire them. By understanding and witnessing the unique methods Ngak Min Health employs, she hoped other organisations could integrate some of these practices into their own frameworks, promoting a culture of shared knowledge and collaborative growth in the mental health sector.
Full photo gallery from the event below.