Culturally safe solutions to help lower rates of anxiety and depression

Aboriginal people are reluctant to access services that make them feel culturally unsafe, says Sheree Lowe, executive director of the Center for Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing in Victoria. She says culturally safe services are free from racism and discrimination and respect the diversity of cultures.


“Big institutions and big systems are not designed for Indigenous people and have been a major contributor to the trauma that Indigenous people have suffered as a result of the government’s deliberate approaches to assimilating Indigenous people,” Lowe said.

The Government of Victoria established the Center for Indigenous Social and Emotional Wellbeing in response to the Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System, which delivered its final report in February last year.

“The mental health system has not truly recognized or addressed the many ways in which it has excluded Indigenous people, and it has not acknowledged the ways in which it has contributed to or aggravated mental illness. the royal commission found. “Perhaps most devastating, he hasn’t changed.”

Lowe believes that investing in Indigenous-led approaches will address the overrepresentation of Indigenous people with mental health issues. She points to the suicide rate for Indigenous people in Victoria, which has risen from 20 in 2020 to 35 in 2021, a 75% increase.

“Having a culturally safe system is part of the solution to dealing with data like this,” she said.

Walker-Fernando is among the young age and The Sydney Morning Herald interviewed for Sufficienthis podcast on youth mental health.

She says that although Western therapy helped her at first, there was always something missing and the focus was always on her finding a solution quickly.

That changed in 2021 when she was introduced to We Al-lian Indigenous organization that offers a culturally grounded and trauma-integrated approach to healing using traditional methods.

There, Walker-Fernando sat in a circle of sons — a safe space where all can talk without judgment that has been used by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for thousands of years — with her mother and daughter. other aboriginal elders.

Portia Walker-Fernando at her home in Casino.Credit:Natalie Grono

“It was absolutely amazing. It was about listening deeply, telling stories and understanding my story and why I do what I do,” says Walker-Fernando.

“It made me come out feeling more empowered. It wasn’t like they told me how to solve my problems. They gave me the space to address them on my own.

We Al-li’s executive director, Dr. Carlie Atkinson, of Yiman-Bundjalung descent, believes the mental health benefits of indigenous healing practices, which involve movement, art and music, can be significant. . She recently set up a community healing center in Lismore, NSW, to support flood-affected residents.

“When people are hurting, what they want is a sense of connection and belonging. They don’t want the sharp edges of a formalized clinical mental health space,” Atkinson says.

“These programs work really well with our crowd because that’s our way of doing things, but they also work for all humans.”

Last month, Australia’s first 13 YARN National Indigenous Crisis Helpline was created in collaboration with Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Australia, supported by Lifeline.

All of those answering the 24/7 helpline are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent.

“From the feedback I’ve received from the community, when they call mainstream services like Lifeline or ask for advice, they often have to educate the person they’re asking for advice about the cultural differences between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people,” says Marjorie Anderson, national program manager.

“Our family dynamics, our connection to the land, our family structure is very different and our culture is very different, so they often have to educate the person about themselves before they can get the help they need.”

In contrast, every aspect of 13 YARN was designed to be culturally appropriate – from the atypical conversational approach to the welcome message and Indigenous music on hold.

Kirsty Fealy, an Ngunnawal woman, says looking at the river helps her feel connected to the land and brings her peace.

Kirsty Fealy, an Ngunnawal woman, says looking at the river helps her feel connected to the land and brings her peace.Credit:Justin McManus

Kirsty Fealy, a 23-year-old Ngunnawal woman and student teacher, taps into her culture to improve her mental health and that of others.

For two years, she helped run a First Nations art therapy program called ArtMob at a free space center in the western suburbs of Melbourne.


“There’s a lot of mistrust in First Nations people about mental health services,” she says. “Traditional therapy doesn’t necessarily work for everyone, and that’s okay.”

Fely first experienced anxiety as a child; her parents had a messy divorce when she was young, then later, at age 12, she struggled with burnout.

Taking a walk, looking at the river, and taking off her shoes in the grass are simple self-care techniques that help her feel connected to the earth.

“First Nations people have lived on this land for thousands and thousands of years, so thinking about this and realizing how much peace it actually gives me has made me slowly start to take care of myself a little bit more” , she said.

For 24/7 crisis assistance, run by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, contact 13SON (13 92 76).

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