by Janelle Brown
A GROUP of women from Grafton recently became the first young people in the state to receive the Teen Mental Health First Aid Certificate.
The certificate is a national qualification through Mental Health First Aid Australia. This course was delivered by Mark McGrath from CRANES. The young women were members of the Sista Girls program which caters for young indigenous and non-indigenous women aged 15 to 18.
To obtain the first aid certificate, participants had to complete a three part course aimed at developing skills in identifying risk factors and strategies to use when helping their friends.
The course covered a range of topics including how to help a friend in a mental health crisis, developing a teen mental health first aid plan (MHFA), warning signs of a mental health crisis, what to do if someone is unconscious, helping someone who is suicidal and what to do if they will not tell an adult.
The course also explained different types of mental health issues that can affect young people and appropriate support services available.
The Sista Girls program was initially an eight week personal development program organised by Clear Minds (On Track Community Programs), Clarence Valley Aboriginal Healing Centre (Gurehlgam), Social Futures, School of Arts Neighbourhood Centre and Camellia Cottage. The program started with a three day camp at Nymboida Camping and Canoeing Centre. The canoeing centre provided their time and expertise to teach the girls water safety and team building activities.
The rest of the program was held after school and was conducted in an informal manner, where the girls would participate in different activities such as arts and crafts whilst discussing important issues.
After finishing the eight week course, the opportunity arose for the girls to undertake the Teen Mental Health First Aid certificate and they enthusiastically welcomed the opportunity.
Another activity that the Sista Girls were involved in was the Equine Therapy Program at Clarence Valley Equine Assisted Learning Centre. This program allowed the Sista Girls to interact with horses with the aim to build their confidence and skills in emotional awareness and well-being.
One of the organisers of the Sista Girls program stated she could see the positive change in the participants "they were so incredibly quiet at the beginning of the program and in the end you couldn't stop them from talking”.
The programs came at a time when young people in the Valley were struggling to cope with the suicides of friends and family members. According to the organiser "The Sista Girls program in particular, gave the girls an awareness of the services available to them. This awareness has also created a ripple effect, where through participants telling their friends, more young people are accessing support services.”
The Sista Girls program was so successful that there are plans to hold the program again, this time with a younger age group - girls 12-15 years old. It is intended that the current Sista Girls will be invited to return as "Big Sista” mentors. There are also plans to hold a similar program for young men - Brotha Boys.