Katrina Hanson, known as ‘Teenie’ in the community, is a mental health worker at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service in Mackay. She helps forge a link between the Indigenous community and Mackay Hospital and Health Service to ensure anyone experiencing mental illness or suicidal thoughts receives the right care.
Teenie—a proud Tagalaka and Waanyi descendent—specialises in suicide prevention in cultural groups, and is an advisor and advocate for the Zero Suicide in Healthcare initiative.' I treat every person I see as though they’re a family member,’ the proud descendant says. ‘If they have issues, I see it as my duty to make sure they get the help they need.’
Reducing suicide among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is a public health priority in Queensland. Between 2013 and 2017, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were 1.8 times more likely to die by suicide than other Queenslanders. Queensland Health's suicide prevention in health services initiative, established in 2016, has actively engaged the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community to improve the quality and appropriateness of care for those at risk of suicide.
Teenie said mental illness is still a taboo subject in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, and people find it hard to seek help or admit they have an issue. Growing up as an Indigenous woman in regional Queensland gives Teenie unique insight into the challenges afflicting the community. ‘It’s a cultural thing in our communities. Just about everyone in the Mackay Indigenous community is related. And so they don’t want to be seen reaching out for help. They tend not to talk about mental illness at all,’ she said. ‘But we know many in the community are frustrated and they want help.’
Teenie treats everyone in her care like family
Cultural norms present some challenges for mental health workers in Indigenous communities, but Teenie's insight and experience has helped overcome many of them. Rather than wait for people to reach out, Teenie embeds herself in the community and has clinicians accompany her to house visits where many Indigenous people feel more comfortable to talk about their suicidal thoughts. In cases where Indigenous men would prefer to speak to another man about their mental health, Teenie gets the conversation started. Then she finds the right person in the team for the situation.
Since she first started working with the community and Mackay Hospital and Health Service to help prevent suicide and manage mental illness, Teenie said the improvements have been significant. ‘You can’t imagine the sort of impact suicide has in a close-knit Indigenous community until you experience it. It’s devastating. That’s why I’m really proud of the work we all do here. We’ve worked really hard together. And the numbers of suicide in the community have dropped.’
Teenie said things can get pretty tough in the community which is why she sees her role as so necessary. ‘I love what I do because it’s for the community and its bridging the gaps,’ she said. ‘We just want to make sure the mob knows there’s help for them out there.’
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