New program seeks improved student education in mental health

Nursing students, Chanelle Wilson and Flavia Darwell with author of Missing Christopher, Jayne Newling and Nic Newling from The Black Dog Institute.

19 November 2015

An educational program delivered through The University of Notre Dame Australia’s School of Nursing, Sydney, is providing greater awareness of mental health and its affects to students, in an effort to deliver positive outcomes for its sufferers.

The mental health care program for second year Nursing students, which took place earlier this month, gave students the opportunity to hear from sufferers and carers living with mental health issues, and from professionals in the field.

It aims to prepare them for both the physiological and emotional aspects of individuals living with a mental illness, increase their confidence and encourage a positive experience. It is followed by a three week practical placement in third year and another five weeks for students who select mental health as their elective.

Guest speaker at this year’s forum was 2014 Human Rights Literature Award Winner Jayne Newling, author of Missing Christopher, who spoke on the death of her son from mental illness. She was accompanied by his brother and her youngest son, Nic, from the Black Dog Institute who spoke about living with and recovering from a mental illness.

Jayne Newling said her message to the students was about giving them an understanding of mental health from a medical point of view and also from a carer’s point of view, while also looking at suicide prevention. She generously donated copies of her book Missing Christopher to all 160 students, who in return donated $500 to the Black Dog Institute.

It is this unique program that attracts students to nursing at Notre Dame, according to Flavia Darwell, who is majoring in mental health and aims to work in the mental health field.

“We learn the physiological parts of a mental illness, but to hear from a family member or a person themselves who has experienced mental illness, is very powerful and informs our understanding of what they are going through,” Flavia said.

For student, Trina Beldan, hearing of positive outcomes in mental health patients, such as Nic’s experience living with bipolar, was vitally important to student health professionals.

“Often we hear all the treadmill stories of people going round and round in the services and it’s good to see that is not always the case and to hear of what did work and didn’t work,” Trina said.

Student, Chanelle Wilson, said it was important for nurses to recognise the signs and symptoms of people undergoing mental health issues and to be proactive when they did encounter it. “I want to make sure that as a nurse I look after people’s mental health and take care of people physically, emotionally and mentally,” Chanelle said.

“Hearing Jayne and Nic speak was very emotional, but it’s so important to hear from the perspective of consumers and carers. They challenge the stigma of mental health and they say it’s not something that should be overlooked, that it is a serious issue and even from a worst case perspective there is a way of coping, by educating people that mental health is serious.

“It is something I would like to carry through all of my career and I would advocate for all nurses to understand mental health issues as early recognition leads to early intervention.”

Program facilitators, Associate Professor Joanna Patching and Lis Fubelli, are passionate about educating nursing students about mental health. “We are committed to engaging our students as actively as possible through lectures and workshops, however the privilege of listening to the experience of Nic and Jayne, and others who presented at the mental health week, provides an invaluable learning experience for the students,” they said.

“Individuals living with mental illness and their carers are the experts and by learning through their lived experience we believe our students can gain a better understanding of these unique perspectives. The aim of the program is to positively promote mental health and the satisfaction that can be gained working in this specialised area, with its own unique challenges and rewards.

“In each year approximately one in every five Australians will experience a mental illness so our aim is to help prepare our workforce of nurses to deal positively and effectively with each unique individual living with mental illness and their carers.”

Applications for all courses are now open to study in 2016. For course listings and admissions information, please visit

Theresa Kyne: Tel (02) 8204 4141; Mob: 0407 408 177;