Emerging Leader 2012 – 2013
To date, Melissa Harrison has dedicated her career to working with or for the Aboriginal community in Victoria to build our profile and to advocate the needs of the community. Over time, she has noticed a gap within the Victorian Aboriginal community within the mental health space from both a personal and professional basis.
As a carer of someone suffering from bipolar and post-traumatic stress for 14 years, Melissa quickly became aware of the barriers in the advocating of comprehensive treatment plans that were inclusive of family, and also noted that there was a lack of support (cultural or otherwise) in place for carers to navigate the complex mental health system. She also noted that there were limitations in exercising Power of Attorney, which significantly affected the health and finance of families. She is also acutely aware that there is a lack of support available to families after the loss of a loved one.
Melissa believes that it is noticeable within the Aboriginal community that there is lack of awareness in relation to mental health issues and the effect this serious issue is having on the daily issues faced by many Aboriginal people in terms of housing, education, employment, drug and alcohol substance abuse, and over representation within the criminal justice system. Addressing the current issues within the Aboriginal community cannot take place without considering the impact of mental health.
Her primary focus is to raise community awareness and explore and develop a cultural model that supports carers/families and those suffering from mental illness. Melissa is acutely aware that further work needs to be done in this area, which isn’t possible within the scope of this project. Support for this project will enable her to reduce her part-time employment to complete the project to the best of her abilities. Melissa dedicates much of her time to the delivery of cultural competency workshops for mainstream health providers through her own business to build cultural awareness and cultural safety.
Melissa’s vision for the Indigenous community in Victoria is that all Indigenous Victorians are fit, healthy and living meaningful lives, and have the tools to continue to be the longest continued culture in the world. She believes a key aspect to the continuation of the culture is to ensure that all Victorians understand and embrace the Indigenous culture. To do this, she believes we all need to embrace the values of the Indigenous culture and use them to guide everyday decisions. This will lead to strong role models in the community for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous members.