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WA alumnus recognised for growing community mental health

Published:17 March 2020

CQUni Mental Health alumnus Tandi Kuwana has been inducted into the WA Women's Hall of Fame.

A CQUniversity alumnus and mental health advocate has been inducted into the Western Australian Women’s Hall of Fame.

Tandi Kuwana, who completed her Graduate Diploma of Mental Health Nursing in 2018, received the state honour to mark International Women’s Day.

Since 2018, the Zimbabwe-born Australian has been driving community mental health initiatives for refugees and new migrants through her start-up Mental Wellness Keys.

Ms Kuwana said her time at CQUniversity was vital to establishing the outreach service, which delivers to schools, colleges and non-profit mental health service providers.

“Before I moved to Australia, I was living in the United Kingdom, and working as a clinical mental health nurse,” she explained.

“But my qualifications weren’t recognised in Australia, and I was also recovering from an injury, which hit my mental health hard, and I was diagnosed with depression.

“While I was doing the postgrad study, I was also volunteering with migrants and refugees, and I could see a real gap in mental health services, and how they provide care to those communities – I just didn’t know how to fix it.”

Fortuitously, in 2018 Ms Kuwana successfully applied to attend social innovation conference the Ashoka U Exchange with CQUniversity, which is the only Australian member of the global changemaker network.

The Boston, MA, event introduced Ms Kuwana to human-centred design theory, and gave her a fresh approach to supporting her community.

“At Ashoka, I learnt a lot – we were hearing about initiatives that were taking new approaches to supporting people from disadvantaged backgrounds, and how inequality impacts people in every aspect of life,” she said.

“Sharing my experience with refugees and migrants, some of the lecturers attending Ashoka with me said ‘it seems that you’re trying to come up with a framework’ – and it made me realise that I could start to design a service that made an impact for the whole community.”

Her new understanding of human-centred design helped Ms Kuwana develop community workshops for Mental Wellness Keys, focused on storytelling, narrative therapy, and breaking down taboos around depression and anxiety for culturally and linguistically diverse people.

“There is a lack of understanding for refugees and migrants about what mental health is, and a lot of shame about struggling to cope,” she said.

“So when I do share my story and they can relate to it, so many people say to me, I’ve experienced the same and I didn’t know it had a name.”

Ms Kuwana, who is a mum to two primary-aged kids, is also preparing to take on PhD study, with a focus on mental health literacy in CALD communities.

Since graduating from CQUniversity, her work has been recognised with a range of appointments, including as co-chair of the WA Mental Health Commission’s recovery college expert panel, and a member of the Federal Multicultural Mental Health Framework advisory group.