Returning dignity and stability to remote Indigenous people suffering from mental illness has been at the heart of work by medical doctor, psychiatrist and soon-to-be PhD holder Dr Tricia Nagel.
Dr Nagel will be awarded a PhD for her pioneering research during Friday night’s (October 10) Charles Darwin University graduation ceremony at the Darwin Convention Centre.
Her thesis has given new insights into cross-cultural perspectives of mental health, and provided a foundation for brief and effective intervention strategies that work in remote settings.
Many clients across remote Territory communities are now self-managing their mental health thanks to Dr Nagel’s work that has identified structures and approaches that halted patients relapsing after sporadic treatment.
Research was conducted in three remote NT communities where assessment, education, and care-planning resources were developed with local Aboriginal mental health workers.
The study then implemented a randomised trial of a brief intervention which incorporated these resources. Client outcomes were assessed over 18 months.
The results were encouraging with many participants showing significant reductions in emotional distress and substance use, and improvements in self-management of their mental health.
Dr Nagel said the relationships and understanding she developed with Indigenous leaders, health care workers and mental health specialists gave her immense satisfaction.
“Developing workable tools for the Aboriginal health care workers and in turn seeing their clients less stressed, happier and self-assured showed me I was making a valued difference,” she said.
She said many hours in the health clinics, with patients and the offices of specialists were critical to the success of her project.
“It’s about getting to know the people who are at the coal-face of health care, gaining knowledge and using creative means to build a better model for patients care.”
The PhD builds upon her immense contribution to NT health outcomes. Since arriving in Darwin in the early 1980s, Dr Nagel has worked as District Medical Officer, GP, hospital medical officer at Nhulunbuy and, most recently, as a visiting psychiatrist.
Dr Nagel said her studies provided a fresh approach to improving Indigenous health outcomes and called upon others in the industry to branch into research.
“Higher education research is very much a hands-on role that allows you to step back from the health care system and contribute your passion to building a better, more culturally appropriate response to health concerns,” she said.
Her PhD was undertaken through CDU’s Menzies School of Health Research, the Institute of Advanced Studies and the School for Social and Policy Research.