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For Justyce, Indigenous mental health is personal

July 5, 2021

Indigenous graduate Justyce Pengilly has received her Master of Psychology (Clinical). PICTURE: Cavan Flynn

Justyce Pengilly grew up confronted by mental health issues in her community and wanted to make a difference.

The Gamilaraay woman, 23, graduated last week with a Master of Psychology (Clinical) at Bond University.

It was the culmination of a six-year plan formed while she attended Mary Mackillop College in Brisbane, followed by Bond in 2016.

“It’s something I’ve worked towards and thought about since I was a teenager and to finish it all feels pretty amazing,” Ms Pengilly said.

“A lot of my family members struggle with mental illness and other people in the community were struggling as well. Especially with Indigenous people, it is such a huge issue.

“I didn’t have that struggle and the logic when I was 17 was that I should do what I can to help out in that space.

“When I seriously thought about it in Year 12, I looked at Bond because it was a fast-tracked degree. I set my mind and thought this is what I need to do.

“I ended up loving the degree and was lucky enough that I picked something I really enjoy.”

Ms Pengilly, who previous attained a Bachelor of Psychological Science at Bond on an Indigenous Scholarship, wants to use her life and cultural experience to give back to the community.

“When I started studying there were only around 200 Indigenous psychologists in Australia and even less than that were practising,” she said.

“When you watch family members struggle and you need to find the right psychologist … it’s hard enough for anyone, let alone when you are trying to find that cultural fit.

“You can only teach so much. There can be a non Aboriginal psychologist who is great and has all the cultural competence training in the world, but there is a level that they can’t have. That only comes with life experience; it’s something we know, who we are.

“I think it can make a massive difference having that knowledge and understanding.”

There is no question Ms Pengilly understands the significance of her achievements.

As the oldest sibling and cousin in her family, she is conscious of the example she sets for others.

“As things shift in society, we start getting more opportunities,” she said.

“You see it reflected in all of these Indigenous kids achieving amazing things and it is no coincidence.

“We were already capable of achieving these things, but when you remove some of the barriers, you see everyone flourish a lot more.

“Honestly, it was a relief to be able to graduate with everything that happened last year and now we are in a lockdown again, so I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to have the ceremony.

“Everyone seems really proud and a big part is me showing them they can do it. Setting the standard -- this is what we do.”