Sutherland Hospital doctor receives a Churchill Fellowship to help boost mental health in young people with cancer

Global example: Sutherland Hospital doctor Tessa Neilson hopes her tour of mental health facilities in the US will inspire ideas that can be implemented for youth in the shire.
Global example: Sutherland Hospital doctor Tessa Neilson hopes her tour of mental health facilities in the US will inspire ideas that can be implemented for youth in the shire.

A doctor from Sutherland Hospital hopes to be inspired by innovative international practices in mental health, to better support young Aussies closer to home.

Tessa Neilson, 29, has received one of 112 Churchill Fellowships this year – and it comes at an opportune time during Mental Health Awareness Week.

Each year the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust rewards people with funds so they can go overseas, research a topic and bring that knowledge back to Australia.

The global tour gives recipients the chance to build their knowledge so they can advance their projects within their industries upon returning.

A cancer survivor herself, Dr Neilson will investigate international mental health support and resources within psychology, counselling and peer services available to young adult cancer patients.

In April next year she will visit major hospitals and a dedicated Young Adult Cancer Treatment Centres in Colorado, New York and Boston in the US, and hopes to discover what practices need to be implemented when she returns.

There she will attend an international gathering of a young adult cancer movement, which brings together patients, survivors, health professionals and advocates through a shared goal of improving young adult cancer health outcomes.

The psychiatry specialist says Australia lacks a strong community of support and empowerment for young adults with cancer, and says the need for more mental health resources and support is vital for survivorship. 

“It is so important to foster a sense of community and empowerment when facing a life threatening disease,” she said.

“Cancer treatment at any age can be isolating, however the young adult age group in particular misses out on key support services that might otherwise exist.

“We can learn so much from the US about cancer care and I look forward to bringing back new knowledge about how we can best support young adults going through cancer.”   

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