High School to Mental Health OT – A Journey of Compassion and Resilience

Life has been a rollercoaster of challenges, opportunities, and unforgettable experiences for Nakita Harmon (2011), all of which have shaped her into the person she is today. Nakita shares her story with us below.

Heading to University

After graduating from high school, I knew I wanted to pursue my dream of becoming a mental health occupational therapist. So, without hesitation, I enrolled in the Occupational Therapy (OT) program at Curtin University. Throughout my time at university, I remained committed to my goal and simultaneously pursued my love for hockey by playing and coaching.

Supporting Family 

During my second year of university, life took an unexpected turn when my dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A year later, he was also diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia. In this difficult time, my education in OT proved to be invaluable as it enabled me to support my parents by connecting them with essential services and assistance. I even took a step back from my studies to work part-time, ensuring I could dedicate more time to supporting my family and becoming an advocate for Alzheimer’s WA alongside my father. Dad and I were given the opportunity to create a video together titled ‘Driving with Dementia’. To be able to look back on that now is very special to us as Dad’s condition has progressed over the last nine years.

Continuing the Journey

Despite the challenges life threw my way, I persevered and completed my degree at ECU after a brief hiatus. In 2019, I embarked on a study tour to China, delving into the healthcare system and exploring traditional Chinese medicines. Shortly after, I secured a job as an Injury Management Advisor at Rio Tinto while waiting for my registration as an OT.

Navigating COVID-19 and Finding My Calling

2020 presented its share of hurdles as the pandemic impacted job opportunities, especially in my specific field of mental health OT. However, I found a position at Graylands Hospital, where I worked across the Acute Stream and Hospital Extended Care Stay Stream. This experience helped me develop my skills and knowledge as a mental health clinician. I later moved to the Fremantle Mental Health Service, where I had the opportunity to work in various departments, including the Assertive Community Treatment Team and the Assessment Treatment Team/Triage. My dedication paid off, and I’ve now secured a senior OT position back at Graylands.

A Day in the Life

As a mental health OT, my days are dynamic and fulfilling. I start by planning my day with my OTA (occupational therapy assistant) on the ward, ensuring we’re ready to face any challenges ahead. Throughout the day, I conduct assessments, advocate for my clients’ needs, and facilitate therapeutic interventions and group programs targeting different occupational domains, such as leisure, productivity, and self-care.

The Love for My Job

What I adore most about my job is the opportunity to work with clients, helping them achieve meaningful goals, no matter how big or small. Building a rapport and therapeutic relationship with them is incredibly rewarding. Additionally, being part of a multidisciplinary team allows me to gain diverse perspectives and knowledge. The variety of presentations in mental health keeps me on my toes, always adaptable and quick to think on my feet.

Finding Balance and Resilience

Outside of work, I still have a love for hockey, but unfortunately, injuries have put that passion on hold for now. Nevertheless, I cherish the friendships I’ve made through work, university, and hockey, which help me unwind and find joy in my spare time.

Gratitude for the Past

Reflecting back on my time at Santa Maria, the biggest impact from my time would have been my Year 9 Society & Environment teacher, Mrs Kumasaka, and English teacher Mrs Smith. My grandad was unwell and dying throughout Year 9, and it was having a very big impact on me as we were very close. Mrs Kumasaka and Mrs Smith both recognised what was going on and provided me with a lot of support and understanding throughout that year. They still maintained their expectations of me as a student and to the level they knew I could achieve. This helped me learn how to balance and manage my feelings while still being able to be productive and achieve in the other areas of my life. Their guidance has been a cornerstone in shaping who I am today. 

Conclusion

My journey since leaving school has been a winding road, full of highs and lows, but it led me to my true calling as a mental health occupational therapist. My experiences have taught me the value of compassion, resilience, and determination. Each step has been a vital building block, preparing me for the meaningful work I do today. I am grateful for every twist and turn, and I look forward to continuing my journey of growth, learning, and making a positive impact on the lives of those I serve.

Thank you for sharing your story with us, Nakita!

What A Term! So Many Opportunities – Jennifer Oaten

As I look back on the past nine weeks, I am so grateful for who we are as a community and what we have achieved. Through the dedication of our staff and the enthusiasm of our students, we have established new connections, immersed ourselves in opportunities and worked through challenges.

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