A group of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youths have come together to develop a new campaign to improve mental-health awareness among Indigenous youth.
They are working with the national youth mental-health foundation Headspace in attempt to spread community information.
Several of the participants explained to SBS what they hope the campaign can achieve.
“There’s a lot of stigma around mental health, and also an inability to find answers and to seek early-prevention methods. So what I’m noticing is young people are experiencing all these issues but don’t know where to go to get help.”
Waywurru woman and psychology student Sam Paxton, one of the young Indigenous people who gathered at the Headspace headquarters in Melbourne.
The group spent a week planning an information campaign tailored to Indigenous youth who do not know where to go for mental-health support.
Headspace chief executive Chris Tanti says seven per cent of people using its services have an Indigenous background but the organisation found it was not reaching enough youths.
Mr Tanti says Indigenous people may be reluctant to use Aboriginal-controlled health organisations for mental-health help out of fear their own family or friends could find out.
He says the group of 12 young people are working with the Indigenous creative agency Glimbaa to show Indigenous youth there are confidential sources of assistance.
“The idea of bringing them here was really about getting their input into a community-awareness campaign for young Indigenous people to actually draw their attention to Headspace and to signpost the organisation, if you like, so they were able to access it. I think this is going to be a bit more than that. Ultimately, I think they had some really good ideas around a whole range of things that we could think about, including cultural-awareness training and a whole range of things that we should consider.”
The young people helping devise the awareness campaign have come from around the country, including Elcho Island, Sydney, Darwin, Broome and Perth.
Advertising student Brooke Scott, a Kunganji woman based in Brisbane, says it soon became apparent there is a real need to raise awareness about mental-health services.
But she says it was also apparent there could be no one-size-fits-all approach.
“I think one of the barriers this week has been how the campaign needs to be different for different communities all around Australia. So making all the communications individual is one of the barriers — and a difficult one. And, also, media is going to be playing a huge role, so how do we use advertising to target Indigenous youth, whether that’s through social media, over the radio? One of the big things coming out of this week is how important word of mouth is in Indigenous communities and how that can spread messages effectively.”
Vanilla Martin, a Ngadju Mirning woman from the West Australian Goldfields, works in Indigenous health in Perth.
She says the campaign is about creating an ease in talking about mental health.
“The thing with mental health in Indigenous communities is that it’s normalised. So a campaign about mental-health issues won’t really be effective, because, in the average Indigenous family, there’s going to be all of these things, and they’ve been grown up with, and they’re intergenerational. There’s so many factors that come into that. So rather than discussing them or trying to create an awareness of mental health, Indigenous communities are very aware of that. It’s just creating that space to talk about it, and to act and to get help in a way that is going to get youth and young adults in our doors.”
But the notion of getting Indigenous people through the doors of Headspace is especially difficult in Australia’s more remote communities.
Mark Munnich, from Darwin points out there may be a better way to go about helping such people.
“We’re talking about getting youth through the doors of Headspace. In the Territory, there’s only two Headspaces (offices) throughout the whole Territory. That’s why we try to word it a different way, which is ‘accessing’ Headspace, getting access to Headspace, either by eHeadspace, ringing them up, going in when they go into town. There’s a lot of people that have access to social media, and it’s just a matter of ensuring that they know where to call when they’re wanting assistance with anything, like with help and support.”
Chris Tanti says, along with the awareness campaign for Indigenous youth, there also must be an increase in services.
But he acknowledges that is always challenging in remote areas.
“When you’re thinking about Arnhem Land and the journey into those communities from Darwin, and the costs associated with that, and the costs associated with flying clinicians out there, these are hugely expensive things to operate. And we know that from services we operate in Alice Springs and the service that we want to operate in Mount Isa, that there just aren’t the professionals around. And so then the costs start to ramp up. But if we can actually make a difference in those communities, then the costs are well worth it. And what the young people are telling me so far is that they do require those supports, they do require at a minimum counselling services, which some of those communities don’t seem to have.”
Blayke Tatafu, who has Aboriginal and Tongan heritage, says, even in his western Sydney area, culturally appropriate mental-health services are hard to come by.
He says knowing where to seek help could also help reduce the stigma of mental-health issues.
“It’s definitely something that’s prevalent in Indigenous communities, but it is NOT a part of our culture. It is something that was brought into our culture due to contact with, you know, history. But that’s something that’s definitely a barrier in order to seek help. It’s shameful, especially as a young man, the construct around it in society to talk about your feelings is kind of seen as feminine or weak, and that is something that, I think, plays out throughout Australia, to be honest. We’re looking at this campaign with a positive reinforcement about eliminating that shame and really coming to terms with your own identity to be able to speak about how you feel, because, in the end, whatever matters to you matters. And that’s what we need to focus on.”
This article first appeared on SBS Online on 30 October, 2013.