Some experts say one of the biggest personal questions in your life is ‘Who am I? Our connection to self is a big part of our mental health and wellbeing.
This is even more acute for many of our First Nations Australians where cultural identity is an important pillar for most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We introduce ourselves to each other by asking ‘where you from?,’ or ‘who is your mob?’
I grew up at a time and with a sense of place and space where being Aboriginal was not acknowledged positively by non-Indigenous Australians – racism was overt, cruel and often physical. But I knew from my father, my grandmother and great-grandmother’s connection to nature, there was something positive to connect to in our Aboriginality.
I am proudly of mixed heritage; Aboriginal (Worimi) and Anglo (Welsh, English, Irish). I have explored all parts of my heritage and met many distant family from all over the world, namely my Welsh cousins, great Uncles and Aunties.
But my life journey and sense of identity took a swift right-hand turn when I connected to my mob. I didn’t grow up in my community – I lived off-country and still do. But I have found my mob, my ancestral home, my culture and lore that has been generously shared with me to humbly learn from and connect with. I also learn from my younger Aboriginal brothers, sisters, from Aunties and Uncles, and from First Nations work colleagues and mentors. I am over a half century old but still feel like a young fulla learning the ropes of his culture – forever a student of his identity.
I share my personal story with you in this blog in the hope you may understand how our heritage, identity, culture and for some of us, dislocation from it, can deeply affect our health and wellbeing.
On the flip side, some of us get the chance to find, renew and start to understand it – layer by layer – and it’s the greatest protective factor in my mental health and spirituality, that I have ever experienced.
I am privileged to learn more each day about my culture through listening, watching and feeling country. A cultural mindfulness and deep listening that we can all practice in our own unique ways. Understanding the stories I have been told, looking for signs from mother (nature) and being in the present.
This is helpful when I get overwhelmed with too much work, family or other business. Just reconnect to the now, the nature and this moment in time – just like my ancestors would have done before our many modern-day distractions came to be.
It is my mob and connection to country, kin and lore that help me stay strong in mind, body and spirit, and for this I am eternally grateful.
Today I have the joy of continuing to support connection to Country and mental health and wellbeing for others, by working on two deadly Indigenous led projects - the WellMob website with eMHprac and SMS4dads with the University of Newcastle. In both of these projects, the teams I work with strive to apply more holistic models of Indigenous wellbeing and for our mob to be involved from the ‘ground-up’ to guide us to deliver what they need.
eMHprac’s WellMob website is designed for health practitioners and community workers to find online social and emotional wellbeing resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. There are over 250 websites, videos, podcasts and even positive social media resources that can help our mob stay mentally well and connect with our culture.
WellMob is user-friendly and engaging and uses unique storytelling techniques to supply information, rather than just giving a set of facts. Our mob often learns and connects with information through story. It's part of our culture. We're very language-based and we like to hear a story, pull out the meaning and tease out some of the nuances, as opposed to just being told about anxiety or depression.
It is especially useful for our non-Indigenous health and wellbeing workforce as it provides a set of tools to better engage with their First Nations clients. An example is a short mindfulness meditation narrated by Uncle Jack Charles.
I highly recommend for any frontline health worker, or even those that have a health education/promotion role, working with Indigenous mental health and wellbeing, to check out the WellMob website for suitable resources to help with your important work.