- Charles Sturt University hosts second Yindyamarra Talk on mental health and wellbeing of First Nations people during COVID-19
- Main issues raised include setbacks in healing, dealing with anxiety, community-led response to mental health and wellbeing needs
- Advice given by experts included ensuring a connection to Country and community, and accessing services via telehealth
Mental health experts from across the country have highlighted the impact COVID-19 has had on the mental health and wellbeing of First Nations people.
Charles Sturt University’s Chair of Australian-Indigenous Belonging Professor Stan Grant Jnr hosted the second Yindyamarra Talk on Thursday 30 September. The forum also featured Charles Sturt’s Pro Vice-Chancellor of First Nations Engagement Professor Juanita Sherwood on the discussion panel.
Up to 150 people viewed the forum, including Member for Wagga Wagga Dr Joe McGirr, Member for Albury Mr Justin Clancy, Member for Port Macquarie The Hon. Leslie Williams, Member for Cowper Mr Pat Conaghan, Member for Orange Mr Philip Donato, and Port Macquarie-Hasting Mayor Cr Peta Pinson.
Professor Grant Jnr said issues of community, supporting each other, trust and cultural safety were identified when it came to addressing the mental health and wellbeing concerns of First Nations people.
“We wanted to build on the success and trust formed during the first forum, to continue to engage First Nations people, to provide a platform where people could share their stories and hear from experts on how they could seek support,” he said.
“Our panellists shared practical advice on how people could help themselves but also highlighted techniques and services to help with anxiety, assisting youth, and connecting to Country in times of distress.
Additional resources were identified to help First Nations people, including the Centre for Best Practice in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention, the Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health, WellMob, Culture is Life, The Healing Foundation and Gayaa Dhuwi Australia.
Professor Sherwood said First Nations people have displayed great strength during the pandemic and the first forum started a conversation about the important role community plays in sharing knowledge and healing.
She said community-controlled health organisations should be the key referral agencies when seeking safe spaces for First Nations people to get help.
“Listening is the key to breaking down the misconceptions and bringing community members together to provide practical support for First Nations people,” she said.
“The resources that we shared during the forum have been working with First Nations people for a long time and understand that mental health is part of our total wellbeing and cannot be separated from a history of invasion, colonisation and racism.”
Border closures and lockdowns have provided barriers for First Nations people that are accustomed to connecting with family and Country.
Chief Executive Officer of The Healing Foundation Ms Fiona Cornforth said First Nations people know the impact and extent of removal, but she said the effects of that trauma have assisted First Nations people to find alternative means during the pandemic to stay connected.
“It’s important, having an understanding of the impacts of trauma, to know you’re not the only one suffering,” she said.
“It’s important we are kind to ourselves and give ourselves that grounding wherever possible.
“We have to stay connected in culture with each other by any means. Restoring and maintaining safe and enduring relationships ... because we heal together.”
Psychiatrist Dr Neil Phillips said the anxiety felt during lockdowns and outbreaks is normal and can play a beneficial role in regulating behaviour.
He said engaging in activities, such as art, music and exercise, and removing yourself from the environment causing the anxiety are strategies people can use to cope while at home.
Director of the Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention at the University of Western Australia Professor Pat Dudgeon said leadership has come from communities, from outstanding strength and self-determination of First Nations people.
“Our strength is our collective nature, it’s the community that holds the answers,” she said.
A third forum focusing on First Nations youth will be held on Thursday 4 November.
If you or someone you know needs help, contact Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.