Make a difference where it matters most

Rural Mount Isa

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Written By

Hannah Gray


College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

19 May 2021

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Pursuing his passion

Growing up in Charters Towers, Ty Stainkey knew that he wanted to help those in rural communities to improve their mental health. While studying Social Work, Ty made sure that he also gained experience in a place that aligned with his goals: Mount Isa.

For the last four years, Ty has worked with youth. Throughout his study at JCU, he has worked with young people in child protection. “I’ve always been interested in mental health, and I’ve always wanted to work with kids and teenagers,” Ty says.

When it came time to do placements for his Bachelor of Social Work, Ty knew that he had a chance to discover he truly wanted to pursue a career in youth and mental health.

Social Work students do two 500-hour placements across their third and fourth year. But because Ty switched from Psychology to Social Work, his existing credit points meant that he could do all of his placements in one year. With the chance to have a year of study be nothing but work experience, Ty made the most of the opportunity.

“I did my first prac at Headspace in Mount Isa, and then I did my second one at Community Mental Health in Mackay,” Ty says. “The difference between working with young people in Mount Isa and adults in Mackay showed me that I definitely want to work in youth mental health. It showed me that my passion is leading me in the right direction.”

Mingela State Forest and Reid River

Between Townsville and Charters Towers

Gaining a rural perspective

Having grown up in Charters Towers, Ty is familiar with life in a rural location. Part of his interest in pursuing social work was to better understand the unique needs of rural communities. Doing his placement with Headspace in Mount Isa put him face to face with the needs of a community similar to the one he calls home.

“Working in Mount Isa, I better understood the range of services and resources available to someone in a rural area. These services aren’t as readily available as they are to someone in Townsville or Brisbane,” Ty says. “Resources like mental health services or family services are more easily accessible in a city. But in a remote location, where there is still a need for those services, it’s more difficult to access. The stigma associated with mental health also affects how people in rural communities access these services."

Growing up in a rural area, Ty has first-hand experience with the stigma attached to mental health issues, particularly for men and boys. “As a male growing up in my generation and area, it was not uncommon to hear comments of ‘men don’t cry’ or ‘toughen up’,” he says. “I would love to see the stigma around mental health decrease, and it is vital in order to provide the necessary care and treatment.”

The need for such services may be even greater in rural communities than in a city.  The reported prevalence of mental illness in rural and remote Australia is similar to that of major cities. In addition, the limited access to mental health services is linked to tragic results, as rates of self-harm and suicide increase with remoteness.

People in rural and remote communities face unique stressors. These include a greater prevalence of chronic conditions and disability, poorer health and higher rates of smoking. But there is also risky drinking and illicit drug use, and fewer employment opportunities. There is also greater exposure and vulnerability to natural disasters.

Ty points out that the interconnectedness of life in rural communities can also make it difficult for young people to seek out help and to talk about their mental health. Feeling like your world is smaller than most can make it daunting to approach someone in confidence.

“You’re in a very small town, everyone knows everyone,” Ty says. “Even if you want to talk to someone about how you’re feeling, about your emotions and your struggles, it can be a bit difficult to feel comfortable doing that. People, especially young people, may not necessarily want to go to a professional because there might be a thought of ‘people don’t know this about me, I don’t want people to talk about me'."

“An increased number of mental health services in rural communities can encourage people to feel more comfortable talking to someone. They then have the opportunity to look at all the services being offered and not simply the one doctor in the town, for example.”

JCU Social Work Student Ty Stainkey

Being from a small town himself, Ty’s passion for youth work is matched with an empathy for their situation. This gives him an advantage in approaching the role of a rural social worker.

Welcome to rural living

Mount Isa

Stepping up to meet the need

Gaining first-hand knowledge of the unique struggles of rural communities has only strengthened Ty’s determination to make a difference to their young people. With plans to move to either Mount Isa or the Northern Territory after graduation, Ty is ready to step up to meet the needs of these remote communities.

“There’s such a need for social workers in rural areas,” Ty says. “But a lot of people don’t want to work there, which is understandable, it’s definitely a different lifestyle. But because of that, people are missing out on the vital help that they need because there aren’t the professionals there to give them that help.

“You can see the gap even with placements. I saw so many students from medicine, nursing, speech pathology, and occupational therapy in Mount Isa, but I was the only social work student out there. It made it so clear to me that there’s an urgent need in these communities, and that there are plenty of jobs available because of the gap.”

Looking to the future, Ty is excited for the opportunity to make a difference to young people in rural areas. But he is also open for the seemingly endless possibilities that await him.

“In a smaller community with fewer professionals, you get to do so much more,” he says. “If I did my placement in Townsville, it’s likely that my role would have been more focused on one specific area of mental health. But in Mount Isa, I got to work with the mental health clinician, the psychologist, the doctor, the schools. I was able to dive into every part of the job and so many parts of the community. There’s such variety to rural social work and I think it’s so much more rewarding because of the different things I’ll get to do.”

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