Strategies for Engaging and Supporting Recovery Among Isolated Young People at Risk of Self-Harm and Substance Misuse on the Mid North Coast (MNC) of NSW

TOPIC:  On the whole North Coast of NSW (ie. Mid North and Far North Coast) there are large numbers of young people disappearing off the radar of education, health and welfare agencies, after failing to be engaged by the school system and/or youth and community services. Many end up in substance misuse cycles, as they try to seek “pain relief” from trauma, shame and not fitting into mainstream society.

BACKGROUND:  Barriers and vulnerabilities for young people (12-25 yrs) on the MNC include socio-economic disadvantage, domestic violence and other traumas, mental health and wellbeing challenges, learning difficulties that have led to stigmatisation at school, isolation since leaving mainstream education and not finding employment, as well as multi-generational unemployment.

From the experience of many headspace centres, offering free youth mental health services around Australia, young people who are experiencing such social and emotional distress often only turn up once. They run away from such help centres, even funky ones like headspace, because they feel like the experts are only stigmatising and pathologising them. This trend not only distorts official records of youth engagement, it also suggests that positive alternatives are needed to better engage and retain young people in experiences that can help to address their substance misuse and self-harming behaviours. Regional, Rural and Remote locations are even worse for these young adults to manoeuvre, especially those with LGBTQI identification, multicultural or Aboriginal heritage.

Dr Robbie Lloyd

NEW APPROACHES:  Port Macquarie Community College (PMCC) has been exploring alternative ways of attracting, engaging and sustaining these young people on a journey of Learning and Life Development for the past few years. It is one that can address their substance misuse and addiction patterns, while also giving them motivation to make choices for a better life path. Using restorative, recovery-based and participatory approaches to promote meaningful engagement, PMCC is having success in helping this cohort to steer in a different direction than ending up in the justice system.

  • Nautilus Special Assistance School is a hands-on, experiential learning program for Year 9-10 students, who join alternative education programs and rediscover the self worth which mainstream didactic, academic-oriented schooling has shamed and wiped out of them.
  • The program aims to support young people’s recovery journey (for those needing help with substance misuse) through a range of experiential learning activities that engage, stimulate, develop confidence and skills. There are four main element in this range of offerings:
  • The School of Hard Knocks Choir Absolutely Everybody Choir, and small group narrative sharing sessions called “Moving Forward With Confidence,” which specifically target individual and group self esteem, social interaction and narrative sharing.
  • Participants can join an eclectic hands-on experiential learning and life development program called “Life Skills Express,” offering courses in film making, digital media, horticulture & permaculture, animal companioning and links to all sorts of accredited VET courses (Vocational Education & Training);
  • The MakerSpace creative arts and practical hands-on workshop activities – from audio & video recording of music & drama, to small motor maintenance and creative arts and crafts;
  • All these programs also run in association with Endeavour Mental Health Recovery Clubhouse, part of the Schizophrenia Fellowship of NSW clubhouse network, which offers psychosocial and vocational rehabilitation day programs. This approach aims to build skills in food preparation, group communication and job placement, and has a very successful work experience placement and job securing record.
  • A microbusiness incubation program is also available to help those who wish to have a go at running their own enterprises.
  • A continuous evidence base is being collected to share the outcomes of this approach in the near future.

PMCC works in partnership with many other agencies and its peer community colleges in NSW and Victoria. We welcome discussions to share our processes and find out about others.


Dr Robbie Lloyd – completed his doctorate in community MH and disability reform in 2010, through Western Sydney University. He has over 40 years experience in education and training, health and human services, specialising in adult community education (ACE), Indigenous development, Disability & Mental Health Reform, and creating whole-community cultures of wellbeing. As national secretary of Adult learning Australia, ther national peak body for Ace, he has advocated reform in bringing ACE approaches alongside health and education services, to provide person-centred and community-building alternatives for these young adults who form a growing “lost generation” in most societies dominated by mainstream industrial schooling and clinical cultures.

This update was kindly provided by Dr Robbie Lloyd, who submitted the abstract ‘Strategies for engaging and supporting recovery among isolated young people at risk of self-harm and substance misuse on the Mid North Coast of NSW’ to the 2017 Australian and New Zealand Addiction Conference.


Dr Robbie Lloyd – Community Relationships & Wellbeing Manager, Port Macquarie Community College, 77 Hastings River Drive, Port Macquarie NSW 2444