Rolling with the punches to improve youth mental health
Medical student steps into the ring to boost mental health in regional Australia.
Growing up with ADHD, Canadian native Kevin Rourke knows first hand how difficult school can be for some kids.
The final year UOW medical student, who has a special interest in adolescent psychology, has spent the past few years based in the Shoalhaven region and has witnessed the high rate of mental health issues, particularly among younger people, in the local community.
One night last year, Kevin was woken by his fiancée at 3am after a local teenager high on the drug Ice attempted to break into his car. After initially scaring him off, he returned and threatened the lives of Kevin and his fiancée.
“At 15 years old and about 55kg, he was literally half my age and weight. Despite this, he was fearless and extremely aggressive. Ice is a very scary drug,” Kevin said.
“I was initially angry with him; but later I learned that he had been bounced from foster home to foster home. His actions weren’t acceptable, but they were understandable.”
In response, the quietly spoken international student designed a free fitness program for local high school students in the hope of boosting their mental wellbeing.
The four-week program at Shoalhaven PCYC, which commences on 15 February, will see students from Bomaderry High and Nowra High given free transport to the classes, which incorporate boxing elements and are open to all levels.
Kevin said he was passionate about helping kids find a good path in life and believes society has a large role to play in achieving this.
“Parents aren’t perfect, and when kids fall through the cracks I think the community has a responsibility to help in raising the child.
“The cost of an exercise class is nothing compared to what we are already spending on a child’s health and education; but for the child, a few dollars is very hard to come by. I believe all youth should have free access to exercise programs.”
Kevin hopes his research evaluation of the classes will show an improvement in confidence, impulse control, and happiness levels, and that his program will be continued by the next cohort of UOW medical students.
“We’re hoping the research will show that exercise classes run in a supportive, community environment have significant benefits for adolescents.”
At the end of the program, all Year 12 students who have participated will have the opportunity to apply for a $1,000 scholarship to attend UOW’s Shoalhaven Campus in 2017. The ‘Investing in Shoalhaven’s Future’ scholarship, open on the UOW Future Students website from July, aims to encourage young people in the region to continue their studies.
After high school, Kevin started following in the footsteps of his father and brother and began a business degree.
“I did it for two years and decided it wasn’t for me. I didn’t like the networking for networking’s sake.”
Now networking for a purpose, Kevin has rallied much support from the local Shoalhaven community and has raised more than $5000 for his program.
‘The irony is, I’m really enjoying the business side.”
Keen to stay in Australia and practise rural medicine as either a paediatrician or as a GP, Kevin is looking forward to his final year at UOW, which has a large focus on General Practice.
“I am really enjoying General Practice, because of the relationships you get to form with your patients. We are at a stage in our career where we can start providing a real benefit. When the patients see that you are genuinely concerned for their welfare they are very appreciative.”
Kevin’s fitness program follows an announcement in December that UOW would build a $2.5 million facility at UOW’s Shoalhaven Campus in Nowra to address the high rate of mental health needs in the Shoalhaven community, particularly among younger people, and will focus on improving the prevention, early recognition and treatment of mental health issues, including suicide prevention.