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13 Oct 2017 at 12:00AM

Mental Health Week: Celebrating Resilience

At Children’s 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.

Jane Vadiveloo
CEO, Children’s Ground

Pictured: Children's Ground senior educator and grandmother, Lorrayne Gorey, with her granddaughter, Kathy. Image used with permission.


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Category: General News
Tags: children's ground, colonisation, epigenetics, first nations, Intergenerational trauma, Jane Vadiveloo, Mental Health Week, resilience,
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