We are excited to be connecting with Dr. Nelly Oelke throughout the course of her study leave in Australia! Dr. Oelke is an Advisory Committee member for the Rural Health Services Research Network of BC and will be continuing her work on exploring the mental health impacts of climate change events in rural communities among men and adults who are over the age of 50 at the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health. Stay tuned at the end of every month to learn more about the evolution of her work in Orange, Australia.
August 23, 2019
Hi everyone, I would like to introduce myself and tell you a bit about my upcoming adventures and work I will be engaging in on my study leave. My name is Nelly Oelke and I am an Associate Professor in the School of Nursing at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan. I am also an Advisory Committee member for the Rural Health Services Research Network. I am a health services researcher focusing on primary health care, for the most part in rural communities. For the last 5 years, I have been focusing on mental health services and supports for adults 50 and over living in rural communities in the southern interior of British Columbia (BC).
So why rural health services delivery?
I grew up in rural Alberta and was the daughter of a farmer. My heart really is in rural communities with a love for the people who live there. For the last 3-5 years, I spent many hours caring for my elderly father who continued to live in a small town in rural Alberta. Trying to access services and ensuring my father was well looked after was often a challenge. Hence, my upbringing and past experiences have fueled my interest and desire to improve health services delivery in rural communities.
Why my interests is in mental health
I worked in the area of chronic disease management for a number of years where physical and mental health are very often arbitrarily separated. People kept on saying to me, but what about mental health. Many people who have a chronic physical disease, also have a mental health concern as a co-morbidity. Furthermore, individuals living in rural communities have fewer services and supports for mental health.
Where will my study leave take me?
My study leave started on July 1, 2019 and on September 14th, I will be traveling to Orange in Australia. Orange is a small urban centre of approximately 40,000 people, 4 hours west and north of Sydney. It mirrors the Okanagan, to some degree, as it is largely an agricultural area and wine region. I will be visiting and working with the folks at the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, University of Newcastle. The Centre provides leadership in rural and remote mental health research and program delivery. I would encourage you to have a look at their website to see different projects underway and resources that they have developed.
You are probably wondering what I will be doing on my leave
While we (myself and other colleagues) were doing research in the southern interior of BC, it became very apparent that the flooding and wildfires that had occurred two years in a row and in the second season (2018) overlapped each other were impacting the mental well-being of folks in these communities. Our research became more difficult to do and participants, community members, and providers were telling us that these climate change events were certainly impacting their mental health. This, then provided the rationale to look at the mental health impacts of climate change and climate change events more closely. Some preliminary work was carried out with interviews and surveys in the southern Interior. More specifically, while on study leave I will conduct a scoping review on community-based initiatives to build resilient communities related to climate change and mental wellbeing. I will also conduct an environmental scan in Canada and Australia looking for different programs/initiatives that are currently being used. This is where the Centre in Australia comes in and looking at initiatives that they have used for drought and wildfires. Visiting and working with researchers and other staff at the Centre will provide other opportunities as well to understand better the work they are doing and various initiatives they are undertaking focusing on mental health in rural and remote areas. Together, with my colleagues at the Centre, we will also explore the possibilities of collaborative research in this climate change and mental health and other areas of mental health in rural communities.
I am getting ready to go…
September 14th is fast approaching. I look forward to the time away to be able to focus on these areas of research. It is also exciting to be traveling to a new area and learning from the locals about things to see and do. There are the downsides too—I won’t see my grandchildren for the next 4 months and will miss Christmas here in Canada with family. And, I still have much to do before I leave both for work and at home. Stay tuned for my next blog post when I will be on the ground in Australia!