Content Warning: This article discusses suicide
In a desperate attempt to combat the alarming rates of Indigenous suicide, two women from the APY lands travelled to Sydney to showcase a virtual reality experience that explores mental illness in efforts to help society start conversations around mental health.
Rene Kultija and Nyunmiti Burton, from the Far North region of South Australia, are just two of the artists a part of the interactive arts event, The Big Anxiety festival in Sydney, which aims to break down the taboos around mental health.
The festivals executive and artistic director, Professor Jill Bennett, said the festival, which is now in its second year, allows for one person to get inside another person’s shoes through a wide variety of events including virtual reality experiences, immersive installations, music performances and one-on-one conversations to openly discuss mental health.
"We want to transform the way people think, feel and connect, to create opportunities for meaningful encounters that increase curiosity and empathy," Professor Bennett said.
“[We want to] decrease stigma, support neurodiversity and promote psychological and emotional well-being in our society.”
The women are doing their part by allowing audiences to travel to the APY lands through two virtual reality (VR) experiences - a traditional story of a man in desperate need of healing and meditation in the Pitjantjatjara language.
Ms Burton told NITV News their project, the Uti Kulintjaku initiative meaning 'to listen, think and understand clearly', mixes traditional storytelling with VR in an attempt to engage younger people.
“We want to help the young people because we are struggling, we are the leaders… there is a new generation coming up and we want to stop bad things (suicide) from happening,” she said.
Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islander people between the ages of 15 and 24 are almost four times more likely to commit suicide than non-Indigenous people the same age.
ABS Causes of Death 2018 report highlighted that Suicide is the leading cause of death for Indigenous children aged between five and 17.
“Over the five years from 2014 to 2018, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children accounted for close to a quarter of all child suicide deaths (85 of 357 deaths),” the report says.
“The age-specific death rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child suicide was 8.3 deaths per 100,000, compared to 2.1 per 100,000 for non-Indigenous children.”
Despite the stories heard through the VR experience unique to the APY lands, Ms Burton said the VR experience was created with the entire Indigenous population in mind.
“We made this film for everybody because we are the women and we love [our children], they are young people for us," she said.
“That story can help, an old-time story is a good story.”
The Big Anxiety Festival runs until 9 November and is in partnership with the University of New South Wales and the research company, Black Dog Institute.
Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact: Lifeline on 13 11 14, the Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 or find an Aboriginal Medical Service here. There are resources for young people at Headspace Yarn Safe.