New campaign urges Indigenous Australians to talk about mental health


The 'Stronger Together' campaign encourages Indigenous Australians to ask each other about their mental health.

Suicide Prevention organisation RU OK have launched a new campaign which aims to lower the suicide rate among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The ‘Stronger Together’ campaign encourages Indigenous Australians to talk to those in their 'mob' about how they are feeling and have the difficult conversations about mental health.

Dr Vanessa Lee chaired RU OK's Indigenous advisory group which helped to develop the mental health initiative.

She says the ‘Stronger Together’ campaign, which draws on the cultural significance of sharing stories and experiences, comes at a crucial time for the community.

“A campaign like this is about having that yarn, starting to articulate how we’re going to talk to each other and address the behaviour,” Dr Lee said at the 'Stronger Together' campaign launch in Sydney.

“Because it's recognising behaviour in people that makes the change.”

Former Australian Netballer Marcia Ella-Duncan is one of the voices of the campaign.

She features in one of four community announcement videos released as part of the campaign, where she explains how she looked out for her nephew Jake when he was struggling with his mental health.

“There are times when you sense that things aren’t quite right, when the little things start to change,” she explained.

“Perhaps they’re not as physically active as they used to be. Perhaps [they are] not laughing as freely as otherwise, perhaps [they are] being a little bit introspective when most of us are gregarious and interacting with each other.”

“To the outsider, it might look quite normal. But I guess when you put a few of those things together and it sends a message to the brain and to the soul, and to the heart - “I wonder what’s going on?”

Former boxer and Indigenous mental health advocate Joe Williams has also lent his support to the ‘Stronger Together’ campaign.

While he was forging a successful sporting career, Williams battled suicidal thoughts and bipolar disorder.

After making an attempt on his own life in 2012, his family and friends supported him and helped him seek professional help.

He said asking a simple question can make a huge difference to those at risk.

“I say to so many people, so many young people from all over the country is it worth not asking, when somebody could be literally flipping a coin in their head as to whether they’re going to be here or not,” Williams said.

“Is it going to take so much of my energy and time to ask a ten second question?”

For Williams, the issue of Indigenous suicide is not just a mental health issue, but a spiritual one.

“Our people are strong spiritually. When our spirit is out of line, that’s when we start to get affected mentally and physically,” he explained.”

“It’s our spirit that’s not quite right and it’s affecting our mind”.

Over 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians take their own life each year, according to a 2016 report.

So far this year, 35 Indigenous Australians have taken their own lives, many of them children and young adults.

There are increasing calls for the Federal Government to treat Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Youth Suicides as an urgent national issue and develop a targeted mental health strategy.

“We are the oldest race on the planet. That’s something to be proud of. But we can’t be proud of that if we are letting Aboriginal people die by their own hands,” Williams said.

“Indigenous suicides isn’t an Indigenous problem, it’s an Australian problem,” Dr Lee said.

“We as a country are letting down young people. We have that responsibility. We don’t have a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait suicide prevention strategy and we need one in this country.”

“We are at crisis point.”

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (up to age 25). More information about mental health is available at Beyond Blue.
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander services available are available at NACCHO member services, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or Headspace Yarn Safe.

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