Training/Workforce Development

///Training/Workforce Development
Training/Workforce Development2019-04-15T07:24:32+00:00

Suicide Story (Alice Springs, NT)

A three-and-a-half-day suicide prevention workshop structured around nine topics covered in the accompanying DVD aimed at community-based helpers.

Program Summary

Suicide Story drew on a strong theory base of what works in suicide prevention training. The program has been adapted to be culturally responsive. This is a very organised, well-structured and designed program with a clear set of deliverables and reflexive practices. The program is flexible, dynamic and accommodates different learning styles, languages, traditions, issues, levels of readiness and still progresses through the nine stages. It is designed on a program logic and approach that adheres to the need for alignment with culture, localised approaches, utilisation of local people, respect for elders, spiritual and cultural values. It seeks to empower communities and individuals to identity the issues in their communities and lives and the ways to address them, including the service providers and programs already in their communities. It establishes a network across the region that ensures the outcomes are sustained. It seeks to work with and support other service providers.

Contact: Mental Health Association of Australia
Phone: 08 8950 4600/Email:

Aboriginal Mental Health First Aid (AMHFA)

AMHFA is a national training program on assisting an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander adult with a mental health problem or crisis until the person can obtain professional help is received or the crisis has resolved. The course is offered regularly across Australia.

Program Summary

AMHFA has been evaluated and the program updated based on evaluations that have shown AMHFA effective in developing knowledge about symptoms and behaviours linked with help seeking.
Contact: Phone 03 9079 0200/Email: 
Contact: Phone 03 9079 0200/Email:

The Djirruwang Aboriginal Mental Health Worker Education and Training Program

Program Summary

The Djirruwang Aboriginal Mental Health Worker Education and Training Program (The Djirruwang Program) is a clinical-based tertiary level mental health course in Australia designed for Indigenous peoples.

Contact: Faye McMillan, Program Director, Djirruwang
School of Nursing, Midwifery & Indigenous Health, Charles Sturt University,
Wagga Wagga NSW 2678
Ph/Fax: (02) 6933 4202 /Email:

The Djirruwang Aboriginal Mental Health Worker Education and Training Program (The Djirruwang Program) pioneered the establishment of a clinical-based tertiary level mental health course in Australia designed for Indigenous peoples. It was the first course to incorporate the National Practice Standards for the Mental Health Workforce (The Practice Standards) and embed the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health First Aid Certificate within its curriculum structure (Havelka 2008). The program has restricted entry and is designed for Indigenous peoples to gain high quality knowledge, skills and attitudes in the field of mental health, building on people’s knowledge and combining mental health theory with clinical practice. The program provides the opportunity for people to gain formal mental health qualifications at diploma, associate degree and degree levels (Charles Sturt University 2019). The Djirruwang Program is an important example of fostering an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health workforce to improve Indigenous mental health outcomes which is one of the four priority areas of the National Mental Health Commission’s ‘A Contributing Life: the 2012 National Report Card on Mental Health and Suicide Prevention’.  This has been further acknowledged within The 5th National Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Plan (the Fifth Plan). Under the Fifth Plan, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Suicide Prevention are listed as a national priority. The guiding document for this priority is the National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal Mental Health and Social & Emotional Wellbeing 2017 – 2023 (NSF). The NSF has listed the development and support for emerging workforces under Action Area 1: An effective and empowered mental health and social and emotional wellbeing workforce. It also lists and notes that additional support is required for the development of specialist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health education courses.

The key goal of the Djirruwang Program is to develop a skilled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce within the mental health-care system to address the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with high levels of depression, psychotic disorders and high numbers of suicides in communities. The program has incorporated a mainstream understanding of clinical mental health-care together with cultural elements. It seeks to increase understanding of the burden of mental ill health and distress and its negative impacts on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social and emotional wellbeing through the lens of the ongoing impact of colonisation still confronting Australia along with current health and social circumstances (Dudgeon et al., 2014b; Parker & Milroy 2014).

The program has been developed and refined over many years by key clinicians, Indigenous leaders, organisations, health disciplines and communities working in close partnership and reciprocal learning to produce a national award-winning curriculum and delivery. The program emphasises the importance of recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural experiences and knowledge within the mental health curriculum and providing a culturally safe environment to facilitate effective outcomes (Brideson et al., 2014; Duffy et al., 2010). The program elevates and legitimates the importance of Indigenous Mental Health Workers (IMHWs) as equally significant to psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses and occupational therapists in addressing the social and emotional wellbeing and mental health needs of Indigenous peoples (Brideson et al., 2014). Program coordinators state that failing to acknowledge the important role of mainstream clinical care is inappropriate and only further exacerbates the stress levels of mental health workers and is likely to result in increased complications for clients and their families or, at the extreme end, becomes a matter for coronial investigations (Brideson et al., 2014).

The aims of the Djirruwang Program are to 

  • Educate and train Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to develop the appropriate knowledge, skills and attitudes to work as an IMHW;
  • Develop the skills needed to work effectively in a community mental health setting; and
  • Develop skills to assist communities to identify mental health needs and initiate primary prevention and early intervention programs (Kanowski & Westerway 1996; Brideson et al., 2014)

Since its inception the Djirruwang Program has undertaken significant developments that have contributed to the program’s success. These include:

  • Periodic external evaluations to improve and build the evidence base;
  • Ongoing program review as an ongoing quality performance issue;
  • Embedding the National Practice Standards for the Mental Health Workforce; and
  • Achieving professional recognition of the qualification of Bachelor of Health Science (Mental Health) by the Indigenous Allied Health Australia (IAHA) 2012;
  • Increasing the number of Indigenous graduates in the mental health workforce;
  • Increasing understanding of the importance of incorporating both clinical and cultural understanding in addressing suicide and mental health issues
  • In 2019, there had been 257 graduates and 77 students enrolled in the program and graduates have gained employment in senior roles in many areas and across a range of settings (Charles Sturt University 2019).

The program has continually been evaluated by the University with input from the mental health professional sector. Ongoing evaluations of the program have recorded the direction and continual building of evidence. Each evaluation has found the program to be unique, valuable and meeting the needs of health services by developing a well-qualified Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health workforce (Harris & O’Neil 1998; Brideson et al., 2014). An external evaluation of the Djirruwang Program was undertaken in 2010 and resulted in revisions to the skills, knowledge and attributes of the students to enhance the professionalism of graduates. The review highlighted key areas for engagement with industry partners, the University and the student cohort which has led to informed curricula development and change. This new curricula, which commenced in 2013, includes a greater emphasis on dual diagnosis, pharmacology and understanding of the diversity within the Australian demographics (Charles Sturt University 2013).  Further to this, the course had minor curricula amendments in 2015 and is currently undergoing a course review due for completion in 2020 (Charles Sturt University 2019).

Embedding culture in the curriculum
The Djirruwang Program positively validates and affirms cultural difference as making an ongoing contribution within the mental health area. Brideson and colleagues (2014) emphasised the critical importance and value of embedding culture and affirming processes as a key strategy to address the burden of mental health issues and suicide within Indigenous communities and the role the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector can play in this regard. They draw on the findings of an economic review by Dockery which argues that incorporating cultural elements into curricula and models of delivery of education and training which affirm and recognise Indigenous culture is likely to improve outcomes across all sectors and promote a positive sense of cultural identity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students (Dockery 2009). Dockery makes the point:

If a strong sense of continuity of self-identity safeguards young people against taking their own lives, it may also have positive impacts in other domains in which people ‘invest’ in their futures, such as education, health, a career and relationships with family and community (Dockery, 2009 p10, cited in Brideson et al., 2014).

The program values Aboriginal people’s experiences and affirms all aspects of culture within the curriculum, structural arrangements and implementation. At the same time, it incorporates clinical guidelines and practices to make a significant contribution to health and social services professions and one that values Aboriginal people at the core of all developments. This is an exemplar of mental health workforce training and of significant relevance to supporting mental health and social and emotional wellbeing and reducing suicide and self-harm through the provision of training, skills and professional qualifications at all levels.

Wontulp-Bi-Buya College Suicide Prevention Training Course

Program Summary

Wontulp-Bi-Buya College Suicide Prevention Training is training program delivering the Indigenous Mental Health (Suicide Preventio) Certificate IV (IMC). The IMC course works to promote responses to suicide and mental health issues in Indigenous communities.

Phone: (07) 4041 4596
International Phone: +61 7 4041 4596
Freecall (QLD only): 1800 065 607

Wontulp Bi-Buya College (WBBC) delivers the Indigenous Mental Health (Suicide Prevention) Certificate IV (IMC). The IMC Course has been delivered in six intakes running from 2014 to 2019. It is accredited by the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) and is approved for ABSTUDY study assistance for Indigenous students (Stephens, 2015). The course is currently undergoing re-accreditation in 2019. From April 2019, the course coordinator is Karen Guivarra.

Development of the course was undertaken by WBBC’s College Course Advisory Committee in partnership with WBBC Trainer and Course Coordinator, Rev. Leslie Baird. Rev. Leslie Baird previously developed the Strategic Plan for Suicide Prevention in Yarrabah (1995/6), and he worked in consultation with Indigenous leaders to adapt the Indigenous Mental Health for suicide prevention and cultural suitability to fulfill the needs of the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) (Stephens, 2015).

Currently in the pilot phase, the IMC course works to promote responses to suicide and mental health issues in Indigenous communities that respond to local needs and has been highly effective in Cairns. The course is transferable to other locations and communities (Stephens, 2015).

The program has a general-entry enrollment with student intakes from a wide selection of communities to provide greater networking opportunities, and the formation of a larger information repository leading to possible funding, employment, public health initiatives, and the development of critical frontline workforce capacity. Importantly, the average level of formal education of the enrollees was Year 10. Wontulp-Bi-Buya College’s teaching strategy encompasses the inclusion of continued high support and modified learning plans for all students (Stephens, 2015). This includes an awareness of Indigenous learning styles and the need for cultural appropriateness and acceptability (Stephens, 2014; Stephens, Baird, Turpin, & Tsey, 2012).

Wontulp Bi-Buya College’s key objectives are to:

  • Promote help-seeking behaviour and positive lifestyle choices
  • Promote local responses to suicide and other related issues in communities
  • Facilitate greater networks between service providers and local communities
  • Contribute to the development of local community capacity to address these issues
  • Facilitate access by communities around Australia to appropriate service providers (Stephens, 2015)

A critical goal of the WBBC is to produce empowered community leaders. It aims to do this by:

  • Increasing student awareness of mental health and suicide and providing ongoing support in the form of network membership
  • Developing a student’s capacity for personal empowerment and control over his/her own life and circumstance. This provides the crucial need of good mental health and help-seeking behaviours needed to support others.
  • Graduates of the IMC have worked to achieve verbal and practical skills to working effectively with current health and community service providers.

Wontulp-Bi-Buya College was able to achieve a course placement for 60 enrollees who were mostly female with the average age of over 45 in the pilot phase, with 78% of this number completing the course.

Using an action research approach to underpin its methodology, a two-year evaluation of the delivery and outcomes of the IMC was undertaken by Dr Anne Stephens of James Cook University (JCU). This evaluation was designed to measure the delivery of the IMC and its outcomes measured against the key objectives of the work plan. A further evaluation was undertaken in 2018. Qualitative data was collected to explore the pedagogical processes that led to the recorded outcomes. The research was grounded in the experiences of students and trainers with data obtained over two years of continuous observation and data collection.

Independent research by JCU showed that 85% of students graduated. This is much higher than comparable training. Research also showed high levels of satisfaction with trainers and training material. The course, though highly respected by North Queensland regional employers, still needs promotion among this group.

Promising program, assessment pending.

Contact Us

School of Indigenous Studies, University of Western Australia

39 Fairway, Nedlands, WA 6009. 

+61 8 6488 1570

Acknowledgement of Country:

We acknowledge and pay our respects to the traditional custodians of the land we live and work on, the Wadjuk people of the Noongar nation, and their Elders past, present and emerging. We also wish to acknowledge and respect the continuing culture, strength, and resilience of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities as well as our Indigenous members from other parts of the world.


“The terms ‘Aboriginal’, ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’ and ‘Indigenous’ are used interchangeably. It is acknowledged that there are many cultural differences between and within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the use of differing terms does not intend to disregard such differences.” © Copyright 2018