Brightening lives

Darren Grassick is on a mission of care in the WA wheatbelt

Source: APNA Primary Times Spring 2020 (Volume 20, Issue 2)

APNA member Darren Grassick is a Registered Nurse determined to improve access to mental health services for young people in rural and remote areas.

As the senior clinician at the new headspace satellite centre in Northam, Western Australia, he’s walking the talk and putting his passion into practice.

He’s part of a small team that supports people aged 12 to 25 in this wheatbelt town and surrounding areas. Through early intervention, Darren and his colleagues aim to reduce the impact of depression, anxiety, stress, alcohol and drug abuse. They also help youth with relationship issues linked to sexuality, sexual health, families and bullying.


The new Northam satellite office, which opened in July, is one of more than 110 headspace centres across Australia, funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Health.

As Darren explains, the key element is ensuring young people can access expert health workers in a confidential, non-judgemental, youth-friendly environment.

“Privacy is crucial for young people – they need a safe space where they can have these conversations,” says Darren, who has worked in mental health for 20 years. “It’s actually very humbling when they share their stories with you. Remember, this is happening at pivotal points in their life and it may be the first time they have spoken to anyone about what’s troubling them.”

Darren uses a number of techniques to guide his clients as they work through their issues. One is narrative therapy, including a focus on internalised stories and how they can affect an individual’s self-perception and define identity. Re-framing those stories can help people develop a more positive outlook.


Practical skills are another way of helping clients. If someone is having trouble coping with stress, for example, Darren may suggest mindfulness, better sleep hygiene and healthy diet, or work with them on breathing relaxation.

He readily acknowledges there is no one-size-fits-all approach but emphasises the importance of early intervention. If left untreated, mental health issues can spiral and have long-lasting impacts on employment prospects, physical health and personal safety.

As a nurse, he also takes responsibility for advocating on behalf of his clients. “You’re a voice for people who otherwise might not be heard,” he says. “And you have to help them navigate the health system when needed or find where to go to get good information on the internet.”

Reaching out to schools and local organisations is a core activity as the headspace team establishes itself in Northam. “I work one day a week in the community engaging with schools and service providers like GP clinics and other mental health organisations,” says Darren. “We run groups and get invited to schools to talk about things like study stress and sexual health as well as inviting school groups in so they can see the centre and feel comfortable about the space if they ever need to call by.”


Holding pride of place in the office foyer is a colourful mural, created collaboratively by three Indigenous artists. It symbolises the town of Northam with the Avon River running through the centre as well as the different paths people have to take from outlying communities to get there.

Looking at the community holistically, parents and caregivers are never far from Darren’s mind. At times he helps them when dealing with family conflict, so they can look beyond the behaviour and see the person.

“Young people are bit like sportscars,” he says. “They’re wired for speed but the brakes are being fine-tuned – which is important to remember when you see them making risky decisions.”


Relevant APNA online learning

The Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.

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