Pakenham hosts training in youth mental health

The workshop will train staff in an innovative treatment for youth mental health.

Psychologists from across Pakenham are joining forces to bring training for mental health professionals to the region to help combat youth mental ill-health and suicide in Cardinia.

From Monday 18 November to Wednesday 20 November, 30 mental health professionals have been invited to Pakenham to hear from Dr Suzanne Levy, clinical psychologist and international expert from Philadelphia, USA, on an empirically-supported treatment designed to treat adolescent depression and suicidality.

Michael Tomek, clinical psychologist and director of Lakeside Psychology, said the seed for the idea was first planted back in January this year.

“We’ve got a crisis in youth mental health and suicide in the area, and I thought something drastic needs to happen.

“A lot of the treatment for youth addresses only symptoms, not other problems. I thought, we need to train local mental health professionals.”

With assistance from Williams Road Family Therapy, Lakeside Psychology applied for a grant to help cover costs.

From Monday to Wednesday, invited guests including visitors from interstate will hear about Attachment-Based Family Therapy (ABFT). One of the most innovative treatments available, ABFT looks at addressing depression from an interpersonal, familial approach, according to Dr Tomek.

“It’s looking at other factors that trigger or make things worse with depression,” he explained.

Some of those factors include family conflicts, with the treatment aiming to restore healthy and secure family relationships to support adolescents through depression. Practitioners are taught how to focus on family conflicts and relational failure, and to restore healthy and secure family relationships.

It first started around 2014, with only two or three workshops having been previously held in Australia.

It’s this that makes the Pakenham event so ground-breaking, Dr Tomek said.

“It’s quite an event, restricted to 30 people and specialised,” he said.

The Cardinia Shire has high rates of mental illness and suicidality. Respondents to the 2018 Cardinia Youth Survey indicated that their top five issues of concern for youth in the local area related to mental health and wellbeing, and including stress, anxiety, being unhappy, schools stress and mental health.

According to Department of Health and Human Services data from 2015, adolescents in Cardinia reported significantly higher levels of depressive symptoms compared to the national average.

The organisers hope that the workshop will translate into more effective treatment for youth mental health and suicide in the area.

“We can’t keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result – we need a change in the way we address the problem.

“We’re hoping it’s going to make a difference in the way we treat the problem,” Dr Tomek said.