Background: Creating the conditions for meaningful relationships is essential to understanding Aboriginal worldviews and co-designing ways of working to achieve better health outcomes. Non-Aboriginal health professionals struggle to recognise the importance of social relationships to Aboriginal peoples and tensions emerge due to these different worldviews informed by different ontologies and epistemologies. This is more so in clinical settings where training and models of care are often inadequate for working with Aboriginal people. The impact of different understandings of relationships on the provision of health services to Aboriginal peoples remains under-researched. There is a critical need to reassess the way clinicians are supported by their organisations to engage with Aboriginal clients in competent and meaningfully ways.
Methods: The paper provides key insights into an Aboriginal-led participatory action research project and the work of Aboriginal Elder co-researchers with non-Aboriginal mainstream service staff to better understand the importance of social relationships from an Aboriginal worldview. The paper critically engages literature on clinical service provision for Aboriginal peoples, along with an examination of the Australian Psychological Society Code of Conduct, to explore the tensions between professional training and the need to build relationships with Aboriginal clients.
Findings: Through the Elders, non-Aboriginal service staff have expanded their understanding of Aboriginal culture, kinship and the importance of country to Aboriginal wellbeing. The Elders mentored staff to unpack the tensions between worldviews in clinical settings. The research resulted in a co-designed culturally safe framework for non-Aboriginal practitioners, which is building confidence, capacity and competence to work in partnership with Aboriginal peoples. The framework emphasis the need for culturally safe models of care. The Elders have supported non-Aboriginal staff to sit between the two worldviews to develop ways to work with Aboriginal clients and shift mainstream models of mental health care to improve the wellbeing of Aboriginal people.
Introduction: Mainstream Australian mental health services are failing Aboriginal young people. Despite investing resources, improvements in well-being have not materialised. Culturally and age appropriate ways of working are needed to improve service access and responsiveness. This Aboriginal-led study brings Aboriginal Elders, young people and youth mental health service staff together to build relationships to co-design service models and evaluation tools. Currently, three Western Australian youth mental health services in the Perth metropolitan area and two regional services are working with local Elders and young people to improve their capacity for culturally and age appropriate services. Further Western Australian sites will be engaged as part of research translation.
Methods and analysis: Relationships ground the study, which utilises Indigenous methodologies and participatory action research. This involves Elders, young people and service staff as co-researchers and the application of a decolonising, strengths-based framework to create the conditions for engagement. It foregrounds experiential learning and Aboriginal ways of working to establish relationships and deepen non-Aboriginal co-researchers’ knowledge and understanding of local, place-based cultural practices. Once relationships are developed, co-design workshops occur at each site directed by local Elders and young people. Co-designed evaluation tools will assess any changes to community perceptions of youth mental health services and the enablers and barriers to service engagement.
Ethics and dissemination: The study has approval from the Kimberley Aboriginal Health Planning Forum Kimberley Research Subcommittee, the Western Australian Aboriginal Health Ethics Committee, and the Curtin University Human Research Ethics Committee. Transferability of the outcomes across the youth mental health sector will be directed by the co-researchers and is supported through Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organisations including youth mental health services, peak mental health bodies and consumer groups. Community reports and events, peer-reviewed journal articles, conference presentations and social and mainstream media will aid dissemination.
The National Mental Health Consumer and Carer Forum and the National Primary Health Network Mental Health Lived Experience Engagement Network acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands and waters on which we work and live on across Australia. We recognise their continuing connection to land, waters, culture and community. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.
“A lived experience recognises the effects of ongoing negative historical impacts and or specific events on the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It encompasses the cultural, spiritual, physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of the individual, family or community.
“People with lived or living experience of suicide are those who have experienced suicidal thoughts, survived a suicide attempt, cared for someone through a suicidal crisis, been bereaved by suicide or having a loved one who has died by suicide, acknowledging that this experience is significantly different and takes into consideration Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples ways of understanding social and emotional wellbeing.” - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience Centre
We welcome Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to this site and invite them to provide any feedback or items for inclusion.
We also recognise people with lived and living experience of mental ill-health and recovery and the experience of people who are carers, families, kin, or supporters.