UOW alumnus steps into the ring to improve youth mental health in regional Australia.
Growing up with ADHD, Canadian native Kevin Rourke knows first hand how difficult school can be for some kids.
The UOW medicine alumnust, who has a special interest in adolescent psychology, has spent the past few years based in the Shoalhaven region and has witnessed the high rate of mental health issues, particularly among younger people, in the local community.
One night in 2015, Kevin was woken by his fiancée at 3am after a local teenager high on the drug Ice attempted to break into his car. After initially scaring him off, he returned and threatened the lives of Kevin and his fiancée.
“At 15 years old and about 55kg, he was literally half my age and weight. Despite this, he was fearless and extremely aggressive. Ice is a very scary drug.
“I was initially angry with him; but later I learned that he had been bounced from foster home to foster home. His actions weren’t acceptable, but they were understandable.”
I was initially angry with him; but later I learned that he had been bounced from foster home to foster home. His actions weren’t acceptable, but they were understandable.Kevin Rourke
In response, the quietly spoken international student designed a free four-week fitness program for local high school students in the hope of boosting their mental wellbeing. The program finished up in March and a research evaluation of the classes showed 74 per cent of participants reported feeling more confident.
The teenagers also felt much happier, more optimistic about the future, and were able to deal with problems better, a great outcome for the region and Kevin, who is passionate about helping kids find a good path in life.
“Parents aren’t perfect, and when kids fall through the cracks I think the community has a responsibility to help in raising the child.
“The cost of an exercise class is nothing compared to what we are already spending on a child’s health and education; but for the child, a few dollars is very hard to come by. I believe all youth should have free access to exercise programs.”
After high school, Kevin started following in the footsteps of his father and brother and began a business degree.
“I did it for two years and decided it wasn’t for me. I didn’t like the networking for networking’s sake.” After rallying much support from the local Shoalhaven community, including $5000, for his program Kevin says ‘networking for a purpose’ is more his cup of tea.
“The irony is, I’m really enjoying the business side.” Kevin is keen to stay in Australia and practise rural medicine as either a paediatrician or as a GP.
“I am really enjoying General Practice, because of the relationships you get to form with your patients. We are at a stage in our career where we can start providing a real benefit. When the patients see that you are genuinely concerned for their welfare they are very appreciative.”
MIND the GaP
Earlier this year (March 2017) a ceremonial turning of the sod was held at the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Shoalhaven Campus to mark the official start of construction on an innovative facility aimed at improving mental health and wellbeing for the people of the Shoalhaven.
The new purpose-built $2.5 million Mental Illness in Nowra District: Goals and Prevention (MIND the GaP) facility is a joint initiative of UOW, Shoalhaven City Council and the Commonwealth Government that will help address the high level of mental health needs in the Shoalhaven, particularly among vulnerable and younger people.
It is jointly funded by the Commonwealth Government’s National Stronger Regions Fund ($1.229M) and UOW ($1.230M).
Located adjacent to the existing buildings at UOW’s Shoalhaven Campus at West Nowra, the approximately 720 square metre facility will include research, consultation and assessment rooms, meeting spaces, a 60-seat conference and training room, outdoor courtyard and children’s play area as well as provision for a future extension.
Mind the GaP will bring together health care professionals, researchers and frontline support services including Lifeline South Coast, Noah’s Shoalhaven and Coordinare to create an integrated mental health and wellbeing facility to apply ‘best practice’ mental health care initiatives (including those of Lifeline South Coast) that will support the community and help improve the prevention, early recognition and treatment of mental health issues, including suicide prevention and trauma recovery.