The social worker making old age more enjoyable for West Australians 

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Mental Health Studies Student Experience

Bronwyn Cutler has sampled the wares of a variety of educational institutions in recent years. Below she explains why she is finding her HETI Higher Education course so impressive.

I took a long break after finishing my Bachelor of Social Work in 1995, but in recent years I’ve turned into a perpetual student. In 2015 I got a Certificate IV in Training and Assessment from TAFE. In 2016, I completed a Graduate Diploma in Sexology at Curtin University. Then, following a career transition, I started my HETI Higher Education Graduate Certificate in Applied Mental Health Studies in 2019.

A mid-life career crisis

I worked as a therapist in private practice for 17 years. By the end of that period, I was looking to do something different. In the latter five years in private practice I had worked primarily as a couples and sex therapist, so imagined I might continue in this field. But then I got a job in 2018 working as a Senior Mental Health Professional (Older Adults) with WA Country Health Service.

I’d encountered older people while working as a therapist. But now I was, firstly, working in the public system and, secondly, working exclusively with older people. I didn’t have any doubts about my ability to do the job I’d been hired to do. However, I wanted to raise my level of understanding of older people’s mental health, as well as learn more about how the public health system operated.

The ideal course

I’m based in Albany, right down the bottom of Western Australia. Given my location, getting to Perth – let alone Sydney – for on-campus lectures or exams wasn’t feasible. HETI Higher Education offering a fully online course was a godsend.

Once I enrolled, I was delighted to find the support provided to students was fantastic. Everyone from the lecturers, to the librarian, to the admin staff went out of their way to help me. The course content has also been excellent. After completing the first unit – Professional Standards in Mental Health Care – I was a lot better informed about how to navigate the public health system.

The TAFE and university assignments I’ve done in the past have typically been pretty abstract and of little real-world use. But I’ve been able to use the HETI Higher Education assignments, informed by my previous sexology studies, to create work presentations on topics such as ‘Recovery Oriented Mental Health Care with Older Adults who identify as LBGTI' and ‘The Ethical Dilemma of Sexual Intimacy for Older People with Dementia in Care’. I’ve given those presentations to colleagues, community groups and conferences.

Personal and professional payoffs

You never know what opportunities will arise as a result of doing a course. But even before finishing mine, I can point to some exciting developments. Perhaps the most important one is that, as a result of learning about proactive mental health initiatives in other states, I’m now part of a team working to establish a memory clinic in Albany.

I’ve also become aware of how much impact the lifestyle decisions people make in middle age have later on. As someone in their fifties, I’ve been motivated to exercise, to remain socially engaged and to keep learning new things rather than surrender to an ‘I’m too old for those things’ mindset.

Be in it to win it

As a Western Australian, I didn’t realise I was eligible for a HETI Higher Education scholarship until they got in contact to offer me one. Rural Health West had already agreed to pay for my course, so I didn’t accept the offer. It was much appreciated, nonetheless.

I now give colleagues considering further study two pieces of advice.

One, always check if you qualify for a scholarship.

Two, rather than agonising endlessly over whether to do a course, just make a start. Even if you can only manage one unit a semester, one day you’ll wake up and have a qualification - that could lead to some exciting opportunities!