Closing the gap through opportunity at Mildura Base Hospital
Mar 25, 2019
MILDURA’S Mike Thornton is a proud Aboriginal man who’s doing his bit to Close the Gap.
In January, he left behind a job in security services to embark on a three-year traineeship in Aboriginal Mental Health at Mildura Base Hospital — a once in a lifetime opportunity.
“I’ve always wanted a community support role where I can make a difference and see positive change happening,” Mike said.
“Mental health is something that has always been part of my life and I find helping others helps me as well.”
MBH Director of Mental Health Services David Kirby said Mike’s traineeship is the result of a successful funding application by MBH to the Victorian Government’s $3.5 million Aboriginal Mental Health Traineeship Program.
“We could see the potential of the program to provide some much better outcomes for the local community, so we’re excited to be one of only ten health providers selected for a traineeship across the State,” Mr Kirby said.
The traineeship program will help grow a mental health workforce that can provide culturally safe and responsive mental health care for Aboriginal Victorians.
Currently Mike is spending a lot of his time shadowing clinicians and working alongside Aboriginal Liaison Officers. When Mike graduates, he will not only have a bachelor’s degree in health science (Mental Health), he will also have years of invaluable experience.
“I didn’t finish high school and I didn’t think opportunities like this would be open to me, but I’ve found I’m actually really enjoying learning and returning to study,” he said.
As Australia marks National Close the Gap Day (March 21), the ambitious targets set by the Australian Government to improve health and wellbeing outcomes for Indigenous people remain challenging. The targets were set in 2008 and reported annually, with the latest Closing the Gap Report released in recent weeks.
In regard to health outcomes, the Closing the Gap Report 2019 found the targets to close the gap in life expectancy and child mortality rates were not on track. Large gaps remain between Indigenous and non-Indigenous life expectancy estimates, and there has not been a significant improvement in child mortality rates.
Despite the Closing the Gap statistics, Mike sees his traineeship as an opportunity to make a positive difference to the mental health of people in the local Aboriginal community.
“When I was a kid, you didn’t really hear about the support that was available in the community,” he said.
“There’s more information around now, but there’s still a lot of stigma surrounding mental illness and that’s a huge barrier to people getting help. So, it’s really important to me to be here [at Mildura Base Hospital] and learn as much as I can so when I’m qualified I can help local families.”
Mike says its extremely important Aboriginal people know there’s a range of mental health services available to support them and their loved ones.
“A lot of the time Aboriginal people don’t like coming to the hospital to get help, but it’s really important people in the community know there are people here to help who will be respectful and culturally aware,” Mike said.