Ground we celebrate the strength and ability of children, families and
communities. We celebrate First Nations cultures. These strengths are made more
exceptional when one understands the challenges people live with every day that
impact on social, emotional and cultural wellbeing.
Mental Health Week is an important time to
reflect on the realities and the resilience of people. While in Australia one
in five people will experience symptoms of mental health in any given year,
this is exponentially higher for First Nations peoples.
As a psychologist I have worked with complex
trauma, mental health and social and emotional wellbeing for 25 years.
Children’s Ground does many things but one of the foundations of our work is
healing and wellbeing.
The levels of trauma experienced by First
Nations peoples is beyond compare. A person’s mental health, or social, emotional
and cultural wellbeing, is affected by both historical and current life events.
Every First Nations person is affected by the
trauma of invasion and colonisation, the removal of children, the dispossession
of land and denial of their rights to exercise culture and language. People
lived with fear. Every family was affected by historical violence and brutality
including massacres, rapes, poisoning and beatings at the hands of authorities.
Trauma affects the mind, the body and the
spirit. It is carried in ways that we don’t always understand. Epigenetics
reports on the impact of trauma on our DNA and the trans-generational impact of
trauma, particularly when it is extreme and prolonged.
This is the starting point.
First Nations children are born carrying the
trauma of the past. The social, emotional, cultural and economic stresses of
this history, both on them and their families, creates the conditions for
complex trauma through life. The trauma is layered through life and includes
childhood hospitalisation, the effects of economic poverty including lack of
food, homelessness and overcrowding. Violence, incarceration and child removal
are commonly experienced. Disease, disability and early death is a norm. Racism
and exclusion is faced in all facets of life. Every child will live with the
regular attendance at funerals (many each year). These experiences, that are
words on a page, translate to life realities beyond comprehension.
The impact of these traumas on mental health and
social and emotional wellbeing are profound. Depression, anxiety, grief,
suicidal thoughts and behaviour become living companions. Some people medicate
through alcohol and some too often express themselves through violence,
perpetuating damage. Some people become exhausted by the stress and let go and
for many it is the ultimate cause of death.
I have the privilege as a psychologist to be
trusted with some of the stories and walk a little while with people in their
life journey. The horror they endure is inexplicable. It exposes the injustice
and relentless effects of history. But the greatest privilege I have is to be witness
to people's extra-ordinary resilience and humanity.
Through all of this stand the leaders, the
grandmothers, grandfathers, elders, men, women and children. They resist and
continue against the avalanche of trauma. Mental health and social and emotional
stress is a companion but not a definer of who they are. There is always a
smile, a laugh, a generosity of spirit, a lack of bitterness. There is a focus
on today and tomorrow and on the next generation. There is a determination that
is unspoken and enduring. Culture and love for children and families transcends
and diminishes the vileness of the trauma. Culture is a protective factor.
Identity, family, ceremony, connection to country and ancestors, traditional
healers and healing practices are just some of the armoury. This too is trans-generational.
In Mental Health Week I want to recognise the
social and emotional assault that so many people live with and, at the same
time, celebrate their extraordinary strength and dignity.