APS members around Australia responded to the call for increased engagement with their local communities during National Psychology Week (NPW) 2011, holding a range of innovative and engaging events designed to increase their connections.

NPW, which in 2011 was held from November 13 to 19, is one the key APS public relations events, aimed at highlighting psychology and the diverse contribution made by psychologists throughout Australia. A total of 673 events were held in NPW 2011, with many members drawing on the topic of stress and wellbeing in Australia in their activities for individuals or groups. The theme came from the NPW annual research survey (to read more about the 2011 Stress and Wellbeing in Australia Survey, go to www.psychology.org.au/NPW/survey/). NPW event organisers found inventive ways in which to demonstrate the importance of psychological knowledge in helping Australians lead happier, healthier and more meaningful lives.

Reaching out to workers

'How to build resilience in the workplace' was the theme for a public event, held in Adelaide by organisational psychologist, author and South Australian Branch member Kathryn McEwen MAPS. Kathryn’s presentation on practical skills to improve individual’s workplace resilience proved popular, with the 70 attendees also enjoying a panel Q&A, featuring Denise Keenan MAPS, Jackie Dakin MAPS and Tim Ridgway MAPS, and a ‘mix and mingle session’ that allowed the audience to meet with the eight psychologists present. The organiser noted that the event’s success hinged on finding an appropriate, free venue – with a local grammar school pleased to host it as part of its commitment to promoting wellbeing at the school and in education.

Engaging allied health professionals

A ‘psychology mini expo’ held at Ballarat Health Services, in Victoria, proved a clever way to demystify psychology for a range of allied health professionals and to reach the wider community through them. Kylie McKenzie MAPS and colleagues from the APS Ballarat Branch filled a room with displays featuring information and examples of assessment tools, resources and strategies that they use in their work with people who have experienced injury, illness or trauma. Psychologists were then on hand to talk to colleagues about the nature of their work and the relevance of the items, such as a ‘cognitive therapy board game’, and a series of dolls, masks and gowns, which they use in work to help children prepare for invasive medical procedures.

Connecting in CALD communities

Information and brochures in Greek were among resources distributed at two special sessions on anxiety and depression that were organised by the APS Mornington Peninsula Branch member Peter Kyriakoulis MAPS. Peter, who appears regularly on a Greek radio station in Melbourne talking about psychological topics, hoped that the hour-long talks conducted in Greek could help to address misunderstandings that discourage some members of the community from seeking help. The talks aimed to educate those attending about psychology and what psychologists can do, as well as provide strategies for coping with anxiety and depression. An important aspect of organising the event was promoting it in venues such as clinics, Greek community groups, churches and aged care facilities.

At the heart of a regional community

Barbara McKern MAPS, a nurse, psychologist and member of the APS Illawarra Branch who practises in Bowral NSW, held her annual open day during National Psychology Week 2011. Barbara has held a stall in a local shopping precinct during previous NPWs, but with her practice now well established, she feels an open day in her consulting rooms is more effective as people seem much more willing to ask questions compared with being in a more public place.  Barbara found that many of the questions from community members were concerned with making proactive changes in their lives to establish healthy lifestyles, healthy relationships and a healthy work-life balance.

Community groups in need

Dr Cheryl England MAPS, of the APS North Queensland Branch, took advantage of existing relationships in the community sector to identify a need for advice among volunteer staff and drivers working for a service providing subsidised transport to elderly or disabled community members in Townsville. She conducted a session on ‘Using psychology with demanding clients’ with the drivers and staff, to increase understanding of the factors that might be contributing to difficult behaviour among clients. In past years, Cheryl has held similar sessions, providing insights into depression in later life and dementia. Many organisations, operating on tight budgets and with few back-up resources, welcome the offer of advice and time from an expert psychologist.

Making contact with a diverse public

NPW bookmarks and brochures on understanding and managing stress were circulated to popular local coffee outlets, including a mobile coffee van, as part of the efforts of the APS Albury/Wodonga Branch in NSW to promote NPW. The Branch also arranged a display of information and the circulation of resources through a local library and a local health service, where information on stress management was circulated via an all-staff newsletter. The coffee van is a popular spot in Albury, with lots of people meeting there, and it seemed like an ideal place to reach out to the public and share information on stress, wellbeing and NPW.

Taking the message to the streets

Inspiring by example was the intention of the APS Hobart Branch in Tasmania, which staged a lunchtime walk around Salamanca and Battery Point, attended by almost 20 members. Maree Riley MAPS – one of the Branch’s dedicated NPW representatives – said that members hoped to raise awareness among the community by talking with interested passers-by, and handing out bags containing NPW resources, including the stress tipsheet. The idea was that they may not need the information immediately, but that this would plant the seed and remind them that psychologists are here to help, when they do need the support.

In a health centre setting

Judith Buchholz MAPS – a member of the APS ACT Branch – held a group session on sleep as part of her efforts for NPW, targeting visitors to the health centre at which it was held. The session covered different types of sleep problems, and practical strategies to alleviate them. Keeping attendee numbers to under 10 ensured that those present had their particular concerns addressed. Judith, who promoted the sessions via posters and by briefing fellow health and wellbeing professionals in the area, plans to hold a similar event this year, running it several times during NPW to ensure more can attend.

In schools

Kendall Newcombe MAPS, a member of the APS South West Sydney Branch, staged a number of activities at schools run by the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children, at which she works. Most popular was the establishment of a staff and a student journal, which were circulated throughout a school, for participants to record happy or funny stories, quotes, impressions or pictures which they wanted to share with their peers.Kendall adjusted relaxation exercises to the needs of students as part of her activities, and felt that NPW offered the opportunity to debunk the myth that psychology is just about problems and abnormalities to show the full range of ways it can assist people.

For more information on NPW visit www.psychology.org.au/NPW/ or to read reports and see pictures of other events, go to www.psychologyweek.com.au.

NPW 2011 MEDIA HIGHLIGHTS

The media exposure generated by NPW 2011 proved the most successful ever, with 200 media appearances reaching a potential audience of 10 million throughout Australia. The topic of stress and wellbeing struck a chord with print, online, radio and TV outlets around the country, with enquiries from media on stress and how to address it continuing to arrive months later. There was strong interest from talk-back radio and radio news bulletins in communities large and small around Australia. The major newspaper supplement 'Body and Soul' – which is syndicated in the Sunday Herald Sun, Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Times (WA), Sunday Mail (Adelaide), Sunday Tasmanian and Sunday Mail (Brisbane) – ran a detailed featured on women and stress.

Local interest in the results of the stress survey, and APS resources detailing symptoms of stress and strategies for increasing wellbeing, also allowed a number of members to achieve local coverage on the topic, including in the Townsville Bulletin, the Albury/Wodonga Border Mail, the Western NSW Border Times, the Dubbo Daily Liberal, and the St George and Sutherland Shire Leader.