Background: People living in rural and remote Australia experience increased mental health problems compared with metropolitan Australians. Moreover, Indigenous Australians are twice as likely as non Indigenous Australians to report high or very high levels of mental health problems. It is imperative, therefore, that effective and sustainable social and emotional wellbeing services (Indigenous Australians prefer the term “social and emotional wellbeing” to “mental health”) are developed for Indigenous Australians living in remote communities. In response to significant and serious events such as suicides and relationship violence in a remote Indigenous community, a social and emotional wellbeing service (SEWBS) was developed. After the service had been running for over three years, an independent evaluation was initiated by the local health board. The aim of the evaluation was to explore the impact of SEWBS, including issues of effectiveness and sustainability, from the experiences of people involved in the development and delivery of the service.
Methods: Purposive sampling was used to recruit 21 people with different involvement in the service such as service providers, service participants, and referrers. These people were interviewed and their interviews were transcribed. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was used to analyse the interview transcripts to identify superordinate themes and subthemes in the data.
Results: Two superordinate themes and nine subthemes were developed from the interview transcripts. The first superordinate theme was called “The Big Picture” and it had the sub themes: getting started; organizational factors; funding; the future, and; operational problems. The second superordinate theme was called “On the Ground” and it had the subthemes: personal struggles; program activities; measuring outcomes, and; results.
Conclusions: While the evaluation indicated that the service had been experienced as an effective local response to serious problems, recommendations and directions for future research and development emerged that were more broadly applicable. Issues such as appropriate staffing, localising decision making, identifying priorities and how they will be evaluated, and developing flexibility in terms of job descriptions and qualifications are highlighted.