The disparity in mental health outcomes compared with non-Indigenous Australians means that there is an urgent need to develop an evidence base around how services can better support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. A critical first step is to embed cultural safety into research methodologies.
The Aboriginal and Islander Mental health initiative (AIMhi) at Menzies works with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander researchers, practitioners, organisations and communities to build resilience and address healing through strengths-based approaches to wellbeing and mental health promotion and treatment.
Our research focus:
Our partners represent an ongoing collaborative of Aboriginal leaders and organisations, who are dedicated to creating long-term impact by bringing together their skills across community, academia, professional services, and national policy. The active and ongoing involvement of our dedicated Aboriginal-led collaborative ensures the research is designed, implemented and translated with cultural values and integrity in best responding to the needs of our communities.
Over the years research has been undertaken into all aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s lives. While some research has been beneficial in areas such as health, medicine, education and science, not all research has been of benefit. It is therefore important that appropriate processes are in place to ensure that research is considered, meaningful, ethical and beneficial to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.
Ethical conduct of research upholds the rights and responsibilities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities to be involved in all aspects of research undertaken in their communities and organisations. Ethical conduct of research is about making sure the research journey respects the shared values of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and communities as well as their diversity, priorities, needs and aspirations; and that research is of benefit to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and communities as well as researchers and other Australians.
It is important that research with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities is led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities. This can mean that the chief researchers and/or members of the research team are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people. It can also mean that research and its priorities are driven and guided by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities with whom the research will take place. It is also important to note that most research methodologies and practices have emerged from Western concepts that sometimes do not include other conceptual viewpoints. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led research can also mean that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander standpoints and research methodologies are considered and used in research where appropriate.
This paper describes the first six years of a government-initiated project to train Indigenous health professionals in digital mental health (d-MH). It illustrates how community-based participatory research (CBPR) methods were used to enable this “top-down” project to be transformed into a ‘ground-up’ community-guided process; and how, in turn, the guidance from the local Indigenous community partners went on to influence the national government’s d-MH agenda.
The CBPR partnership between five community partners and a university rural health department is described, with illustrations of how CBPR harnessed the community’s voice in making the project relevant to their wellbeing needs. The local Indigenous community’s involvement led to a number of unexpected outcomes, which impacted locally and nationally. At an early stage, the conceptual framework of the project was changed from d-MH to the culturally-relevant Indigenous framework of digital social and emotional wellbeing (d-SEWB). This led to a significant expansion of the range and type of digital resources; and to other notable outcomes such as successful advocacy for an Aboriginal-specific online therapy program and for a dedicated “one-stop-shop” d-SEWB website, Wellmob, which was funded by the Australian government in 2019–2021. Some of the implications of this project for future Indigenous CBPR projects are discussed.
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.