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We’re listening at last to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voices in Mental Health

23 June 2020 - Nathan Meteoro

In the last few years, there has been an emergence of the inclusion of Lived Experience voices when it comes to the development of initiatives in mental health and suicide prevention. Lived Experience by definition can involve the experience of mental ill health and/or suicide (From ideation through to attempts), caring for those who are mentally unwell, and being bereaved by suicide. Whilst significant progress has been made in incorporating these voices generally, there is a call for diversity in these Lived Experience voices, namely Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience.

What has been done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience?

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience is a relatively new area of research. To consolidate what had already been explored, a literature review was conducted by the Centre for Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention (CBPATSISP) at University of Western Australia. What they found was Indigenous experience of suicide is inherently different to mainstream experiences of suicide, and that there are factors unique to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that contribute to suicide that non-Indigenous people do not share. The primary factor was the effects of colonisation (And the subsequent genocide, dispossession and forced removal of children amongst other significant atrocities) weighed into this lived experience.

Whilst this experience was confirmed through the literature, the CBPATSISP team undertook a workshop to bring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to hear their lived experiences of suicide. This provided an opportunity to explore concepts of lived experience, how their lived experience was grounded in their cultural history and practices, and what it would take to meaningfully engage their lived experience in a safe and appropriate way.

The results of this workshop were published in an ethics approved report called “We are not the problem, we are part of the solution: Indigenous Lived Experience Project Report”. The key themes that came out of that report were the following:

  • The need for an Indigenous Lived Experience Definition and Network
  • The Need for Self-Determination
  • Experiences of Grief and Loss
  • Experiences of Racism and Trauma
  • Lack of Appropriate Services and Responses
  • Isolation, Discrimination, and Racism in Mainstream LGBTIQ+ Services: Prioritising Engagement of Indigenous LGBTIQ+SB Peoples and Communities
  • Hope for the Future

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience Centre: A new and innovative way forward

Following the workshop, a proposal was made to the Federal Government to fund an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience Centre. This proposal was made in consideration that this initiative needed to be developed, supported, and lead by the right people.

In September 2019, Minister Ken Wyatt formally announced that they were funding the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience Centre. It is funded through the Black Dog Institute, and the Centre is the first of its kind here in Australia, and to our knowledge, internationally, paving the future for Lived Experience engagement of Indigenous peoples both nationally and internationally.

Led by Leilani Darwin, a Quandamooka woman whose ancestral home is Stradbroke Island, has her own personal lived experience of suicide through losing her mother to suicide when she was 10, and being a survivor of suicide attempts herself.

The Centre will provide an opportunity to give a voice to those in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community who have been deeply affected by suicide and mental ill health. Concepts of or social and emotional wellbeing and other relevant and related lived experience which will be heard in new initiatives, program and policy development that could have impacts for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The aim of the Centre is to build a network workforce of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with Lived Experience to provide input on initiatives at a local and national level, ensuring that these voices are embedded from the beginning. This is to guarantee that all outcomes are beneficial and appropriate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Centre will work through culturally led and informed model that will value and empower the inclusion of personal lived experiences to ultimately contribute to changes in the systems and processes that continue to impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

What the Centre means for Lived Experience, and work with health professionals

This new and innovative Centre means that the diversity of Lived Experience is represented at the table of any initiative regardless of whether the focus is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander or not. The Centre not only advocates for the inclusion of Lived Experience in important projects, but the advocacy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices across mental health and suicide prevention as a whole. As Leilani Darwin put it in a recent National Indigenous Times article:

“I’ve seen the power of our natural way of sharing stories … we stop being statistics, we stop being over-represented—we are humans and we have [a] story that comes with that and it is incredibly powerful and courageous to share that.”

It is these stories that shape our perception of health systems, these stories that cause us to pause and reflect on the work we are doing as health professionals and try to achieve equity across the individuals we try to help.

Success of the Centre means that these voices are engaged from the outset, and become commonplace when working across projects, developing policies, and co-designing new services. Success means that any initiative will truly be inclusive for every single person in this country and will ensure equity for all.

Ask yourself if you have lent consideration to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices, and if you haven’t, what can you do to change that?

You can contact the Centre about your own reflections and any initiatives you think would be beneficial to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices below.

More about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience Centre here

Or email:

Nathan Meteoro
Nathan Meteoro

Nathan Meteoro is the Senior Project Officer at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience Centre and has worked at the Black Dog Institute for the past 3 years. Nathan has a background in psychology and has worked in various settings including research, disability support, and notably on LifeSpan, a systems approach to suicide prevention. He is greatly interested in how to achieve systems change across social issues through the implementation and scale-up of evidence-based solutions and ways of working.

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