Jointly hosted by Asia Australia Mental Health and The Dax Centre, the aim of the symposium is to exchange ideas and experiences about
the role art can play in the promotion of mental health in communities in the the Asia Pacific region.
Presenter: Janak Rogers reports.
Speakers: Odeile Chang, Senior Lecturer in Psychiatry at the Fiji National University; Dr Myrielle Allen, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at the Fiji National University; William Same, Solomon Islands Director of Mental Health Services
ROGERS: The symposium brings together mental health practitioners from around the region to discuss the role that art can play in therapy in treating mental illness. Mental health issues are often treated through medication, there is a growing trend toward so-called alternative or creative therapies.
Odeile Chang is a senior lecturer in Psychiatry at the Fiji National University and says that art therapy is still in its early stages in Fiji, but she says it has the potential to play in important role in addressing mental illness, especially in Pacific Island cultures.
CHANG: In our culture, where song, dance and arts are a natural part of our culture, these sort of therapies will work well I think in conjunction with our traditional sort of Western medicine approach.
ROGERS: A recent community study described the high suicide rates in Fiji as an epidemic, with young Indo-Fijian women being the most vulnerable.
Dr Muriel Allen is a child and adolescent psychiatrist, and a lecturer at the school of medicine at the Fiji National University.
She says that while most of the resources are directed toward treating adult mental health issues, there is a real need to develop programs for young children and that art therapy can play a unique role in targeting younger patients.
ALLEN: It can be very helpful for children, because that is their language. Most of them could not express their emotions, so drawings, play would be their language and they believe it's fully express how they feel.
ROGERS: Dr Allen adds that the state education system can also play a role in addressing the mental health issues of of young students.
ALLEN: It's important that teachers become sensitised or taught to like be sensitive to children's' feelings and the best way to do it, especially if you have a lot of children in the classroom, will be to ask them to draw, how they feel.
ROGERS: Odele Chang from the Fiji National University says that reaching patients in remote and rural areas remains a key challenge in addressing mental health issues.
CHANG: That's where I think the NGOs have become particularly handy, because they are the ones who are able to go out and have the resources to be able to reach those other communities. We haven't quite yet been able to get it in terms of the network that's already in place through the Ministry of Health, but training of public health nurses and doctors has been ongoing.
ROGERS: William Same is the director of the Mental Health Service in Solomon Islands.
The Solomon's has only one state psychiatrist based in Honiara, and Mr Same says the Solomon's face many similar challenges to Fiji and other Pacific Island nations.
SAME: Our mental health services is more centralised. There is a very limited services to other community and it's very difficult to access mental health service within the community.
ROGERS: He says while the Solomon's have begun a small program incorporating art therapy to treat mental illness, but that more needs to be done for the program to have significant impact.
SAME: We have two people already established, they're into it already, but I think we have to be reorganised, and we don't know, we lack the skill and we lack the expertise what would be the real use of these paintings or whatever.
ROGERS: The art therapy symposium held at Melbourne University also saw the launch of the Asia Pacific Community Mental Health Development Project, which hopes to encourage greater regional cooperation in the treatment of mental health.