The Healing Foundation convened a public forum with live streaming in Canberra last week, called Cultural Solutions: Understanding Suicide: trauma capability and responses in Indigenous communities.
Summer May Finlay, a Yorta Yorta woman and public health researcher, covered the event for the Croakey Conference Reporting Service.
Summer May Finlay writes:
The difference was that the conversation was not centred on the devastating statistics of suicide from among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, but on solutions.
The panellists (pictured) included Professor Michael Chandler as keynote speaker, Pat Anderson AO, Professor Ngiare Brown, Jeremy Donovan and MC Greg Turnbull.
The key take home message from all the speakers was that there is not a “one size fits all solution”, but rather solutions that would address individual community needs.
Speakers also called for solutions based on strengths, rather than deficits.
These principles are the reasons why Richard Weston, the CEO of the Healing Foundation (on L in photo above), felt it was important to have Professor Michael Chandler at the forum. He said:
“Chandler’s strength-based approach aligns with the work of the Healing Foundation, and that’s why we wanted him here, to start sharing this different ways of looking at these problems.
“Once we break it down it down, it’s still heart breaking to have suicides in community but it’s not a national problem, it’s in a few places and there are causes, we just need to tackle those causes to better target our strategies.”
Emeritus Professor Michael Chandler is a Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. His research has highlighted the value of taking strengths-based approaches to suicide prevention in communities, including the importance of cultural continuity.
Not only was the focus of the conversation different at this forum – the way it was being held was different.
The forum had a live audience but was also streamed live across the country. In addition to the 70-plus audience, over 120 groups viewed the forum remotely.
And it was not only the panellists who did the talking. Questions came in via the hashtag #CulturalSolutions (as per below), a pre-recorded video, and voice calls over the Internet as well as from the people in the audience.
Jeremy Donavan, Healing Champion at the Healing Foundation and Executive Director at Generation One – Indigenous Employment Initiative, answered with:
“Children don’t fit in boxes; we are all rounded in different ways and education needs to reflect this. We need to empower children to have the conversations which haven’t been had in the past.”
The Healing Foundation believes in working directly with communities, that communities have the answers, and we just need to be having the conversations – which is why they wanted as many people to participate as possible.
This is what motivated them to open up the forum to people through the Internet.
She believes that suicide is a difficult and “vexed” conversation, but one we need to have.
She believes there is “no quick fix, no one solution”, and that every community needs to find its own solutions.
Jeremy Donovan echoed these sentiments: “We have to have these difficult, sensitive, painful, heartbreaking conversations”.
Mr Weston said:
“We have a lot of knowledge in our communities so we’ve got the foundations to deal with the issue of suicide and other harms that are going on in our communities but we have to improve our language around it, we have to describe it.
Everyone needs to buy into it and we have to invest, we have to engage our communities in that journey with us not sit here in Canberra and design these programs.”
Professor Chandler’s work focuses on the communities with few or no suicides to understand the protective factors, to learn how to heal. His work looks at the markers for “cultural continuity” and “self-continuity”.
Professor Ngaire Brown, a proud Yuin nation woman, also believes culture is the solution. Professor Brown talks about Cultural Determinants rather than Social Determinants of Health.
She believes that the Social Determinants take a deficit approach whereas a Cultural Determinants approach is focused on strengths (listen to her interview with the National Indigenous Radio Service).
Talking about suicide is hard, not having the conversation though isn’t going to make it go away.
The Healing Foundation made a brave decision to open up the forum to as many people as possible by streaming it live and utilising Twitter. And it paid off.
If you couldn’t make the forum or tune in online, you haven’t missed the conversation completely courtesy of Twitter.
Making technology work for us is important, it allows us to bring everyone together. Without the innovative use of technology, the Healing Foundation’s message wouldn’t have had the same national impact.
• Summer May Finlay is a Yorta Yorta woman who grew up on Lake Macquarie. She has a Bachelor of Social Science and a Masters of Public Health, and has worked in Aboriginal affairs, in a range of capacities, for 10 years. She tweets as @OnTopicAus and has a blog, On Topic which you can read at http://summermayfinlay.blogspot.com.au. You can read more about her at The Guardian.
And here she is in “roving reporter” mode at the forum:
For help or more information
For people who may be experiencing sadness or trauma, please visit these links to services and support
• For young people 5-25 years, call kids help line 1800 55 1800
• For resources on social and emotional wellbeing and mental health services in Aboriginal Australia, see here.
• Track Croakey’s coverage of the forum here.