Making MediFriends in Whyalla

Community stories: 28 March 2020

Whyalla is the third largest city in South Australia, located 395 km north west of Adelaide. With a population of approximately 21, 000 people, Whyalla is known as the ‘steel city’, and the Steelworks accounts for 18% of the employment for the town.

Over the last few years families and young people in Whyalla have had a challenging time with the Steelworks going into Administration, and people not knowing if they would lose their jobs. This uncertainty within the town had a significant impact on stress levels and the mental health of families and young people.

Over a 12-month period, headspace Port Augusta delivered an outreach service that demonstrated the need for a permanent location in Whyalla. Since opening in January 2018, headspace Whyalla has observed many young people experiencing issues such as depression, anxiety, body image issues and bullying. The remoteness of Whyalla also exacerbates the mental health issues young people experience, as service options are limited. The demand for mental health services remains high, with mental health services in the town unable to keep up, even with the addition of this new service.

Country & Outback Health is a not for profit organisation that provides a range of mental health and general health support services to South Australians living in rural and regional areas. They auspiced an application from headspace Whyalla for funding to support an FRRR ABC Heywire Youth Innovation Grants initiative called MediFriends.

Traditionally, doctors and health professionals have been seen as unapproachable. The MediFriends project aims to foster and support relationships between medical professionals including doctors, dentists, mental health nurses etc, and young people.

headspace Whyalla Community Engagement Officer, Courtney Beer, said that recent discussions with headspace clinicians, other staff and other organisations revealed that health professionals wanted to connect with each other and build on relationships to foster smoother transitions between services and better shared care.

“We wanted to give young people the skills and contacts to take charge of their health care and confidence in choosing their health professionals.

We were able to successfully consult with our local youth reference group and youth advisory committee, and they brainstormed ideas for the event, discussing what their current experiences are with the health care system and determining what information they would like to know. We also met with a group of local GP’s and health professionals to discuss their current experiences with young people, and brainstormed what they would like to get out of the event also,” she said.

Eighty-three responses to a survey developed for young people aged 12-25 to share their experiences provided some information to deliver at the MediFriends event to support the GP’s in developing their understanding of working with young people.

From this they came up with four talking points that were addressed: Access, Cost / Medicare, Confidentiality / Disclosure, and Emergency Room vs General Practitioner. These talking points were then incorporated in the curriculum of the year 12 health class, and 24 students spent six weeks investigating these topics and developing resources such as fact sheets and flyers with the information provided. Each student developed material that was distributed to their peers on the night of the event, which took the form of a semi-formal dinner that was planned and coordinated by the health class students and members of the youth reference groups.

The $4,500 FRRR grant, funded by the Findex Community Fund, covered the costs of printing, decorations, catering, music and a formal Welcome to Country at the MediFriends event, which was attended by 80 people. The audience was made up of a mix of young people, health professionals, GP’s, nurses and community members.

Members of the youth reference group and the year 12 health class were guest speakers on the night and shared with their peers the information they had found throughout their investigation. Local GP’s, nurses and community members were also invited to be guest speakers in their respective fields.

Courtney Beer said that MediFriends was a great way to enhance the interaction between young people and health professionals.

“The idea to work with the local year 12 class was a valuable way to further involve a group of young people to benefit from the event. We were able to engage with local GP’s to share information for better engagement with young people in health care, and also provide GP’s with a platform to share issues that young people might be facing locally.

“I am most proud the fact that the development of the project was youth-led, and the information was developed peer-to-peer. The attendance and engagement on the night exceeded our expectations.”