Realising the value of a student led service learning placement in challenging mental health stigma: “This placement has changed me for ever”

Mrs Nicole Killey1, Mrs Jane Ferns2

1University Of Newcastle Department Of Rural Health, Coffs Harbour, Australia, 2University Of Newcastle Department Of Rural Health, Taree, Australia

Background: Service-learning (SL) placements aim to address health inequities experienced by underserved populations by linking purposeful service activities by health students with their academic curriculum to enrich their learning experiences. Through a collaboration between the University of Newcastle Department of Rural Health (UONDRH) and Momentum Collective (MC) a pilot SL placement was developed for occupational therapy (OT) students. MC is a regional community based organisation that provides support for people who are vulnerable or disadvantaged, including a residential mental health rehabilitation service.

Method: Two second-year OT students participated in a SL placement over seven weeks. Following completion of a needs assessment with consumers, students planned and implemented group and individual consumer programs. Based on their experiences and feedback from MC staff and consumers, students developed a report providing recommendations for future student led programs. The UONDRH SL placement evaluation was completed by students and MC management.

Results: Feedback from UONDRH SL placement evaluations highlighted unintended positive outcomes beyond the placement learning objectives. Students developed a greater understanding of consumers in the mental health setting challenging their preconceptions. MC highlighted the value of this placement in reducing the stigma towards consumers of mental health services.

Discussion: This SL placement emerged as an innovative solution for meeting the need for professional practice placement experiences.  While it was anticipated that students would have the opportunity to experience working in a community mental health service, the unintended outcome of reducing the stigma of mental health was inspiring.  This experience has broadened our understanding of the potential learning opportunities, specifically challenging students to reflect upon their own assumptions related to mental health and the associated stigma experienced by consumers, which will inform future placement design.


Since graduating from University of Queensland I have worked primarily in adult rehabilitation and community settings across regional NSW and the UK.  I have an interest in student education and currently hold the position of Associate Lecturer Occupational Therapy with UONDRH, Coffs Harbour.

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