Advocating for Indigenous Genius, Indigeneity and Wellbeing

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Kimberley Roundtable – Suicide Prevention, communiqué from Sussan Ley

A high-level Roundtable discussion today on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide in the Western Australian Kimberley region, chaired by Federal Minister for Health, Sussan Ley, emphasised the need for local, Indigenous controlled responses to the escalating rates of suicide in the community.

Key outcomes from the Roundtable today included:

  • Agreement for a shared commitment between the Australian Government, the community and service providers to reduce the high rates of suicide in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in the Kimberley region.
  • A recognition that suicide is not just a health issue but must link to the social and cultural determents of health.
  • a need to focus on family support
  • that community based interventions are developed and implemented using a foundation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership and in partnership with Indigenous communities, including the need to train the local Aboriginal mental health workforce and taking a family focussed approach as part of empowering the community.
  • that the Kimberley trial will develop a suicide prevention model that can support the unique and culturally sensitive requirements of remote communities.
  • that government funding and investment needs to be better targeted with more local involvement and streamlining between State and Federal funding arrangements.
  • and that the Country Western Australian Primary Health Network (PHN) will work closely and collaboratively in partnership with Kimberley Aboriginal groups and organisations in the conduct of the trial. Minister Ley undertook to investigate how to extend Aboriginal community controlled health organisations representation on PHNs.

Outcomes from the Roundtable will help plan and inform the design of the trial, local suicide prevention activity, and inform the design of strategies in the national trial.

FULL communiqué  can be downloaded here: kimberley-communique

(image via ABC: Ben Collins)

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Men, mental health and safe spaces

For many years I have known a few things as fact. Men communicate, and folks just aren’t paying attention to how we do. Men engage, but folks seem to think that men subscribe to notion of ‘if you build it, they will come’. Which is not the case. One of the other failings in male health is that there is this idea that men need to change their behaviours in order to ‘get well’. There is research that shows that behavioural change programs in health promotion are ineffective and in some cases are have the reverse affect. 

A heads up, men will avoid behavioural change programs like the plague. 

Its all about safe spaces. 

I know this because a) I am an man and b) I work in health, and thats how I came up with YFRONTS. Not what it is today, originally I was setting it up to be an auto-curated Twitter account. 

Three years ago I learnt what an auto-curated twitter account could do. Its a themed twitter account that each week has a different user, giving them an opportunity to give their point of view aligned with that theme. The account that showed me this was @IndigenousX. About a year later I saw how this same type of account could have an impact in health with @WePublicHealth. So I decided to create one for men’s health. One week a male worker in health and the alternate week, a male in a non-professional capacity. 

Each week they’re would be different points of view and perspectives on mens health and interacting occasionally with followers in a Q & A on the topic of men’s health. Thats where the name YFRONTS came from. 

Literally what came to mind were the words – ‘questions, answers, why, Y, yfronts’, and that was that. YFRONTS. I then set up the twitter account and started doing some the initial planning on what and how I would get it started. How I would get it ready. 

Several months later I was forwarded an email for a project beyond blue and Movember had partnered on. An action research project using a digital interface designed to reduce stigma associated with depression and suicidal thoughts among men. It was called the Stigma Reduction Interventions: Digital Environments (STRIDE) project.

The initial ground work on the twitter account allowed for a swift transition into submitting an proposal. Two years later, on RUOK Day? YFRONTS was launched as an app for iPhone users. You can download it here.

In the development of the APP, the first thing needed was to step away from the language of mental health, and that meant erasing the term completely. As an Indigenous Australian working in mental health I knew exactly what was needed in its place. As Indigenous Australians we view mental health through domains of what we call social and emotional wellbeing. We look at our physical, emotional, social, cultural, and spiritual health as all interconnected. Disruption to one or more of these domains, we know to affect our overall ‘mental health’. By looking at our mental health this way, we are able to isolate what needs to be focused on. In todays fast paced entrepreneurial space you could call it the ‘lean’ approach to mental health. Rather than approaching mental health as a whole system, we approach it looking at the domains and implementing incremental interventions. We have existed for over 60,000 years without a mobile application, so it made sense to implement this at a time when we have them.

The second thing was too focus on what men already unconsciously do that contributes to their positive well-being. In the last ten years its been validated that laughing with mates releases feel-good stimuli, known as endorphins, into our brains. So when you see a bunch of mate skylarking about about, what is happening, unbeknownst to them, is that these endorphins are combating any pain and stress they may be experiencing and helping their minds alleviate anxiety and depression. Watching a comedy film or tv show, anything that makes you laugh does this as well.

So the dice was rolled with this knowledge, plus a few other ideas I had floating around in my head, and a submission was tendered. Suffice to say, the YFRONTS idea was successful. 

There are several elements to the YFRONTS app that set it apart from the usual ‘mental health’ interventions aimed at men. They include the two previous elements I mentioned: erasing the word mental health, the domains of social and emotional wellbeing. But we also use elements of mindfulness. We ask that users take pictures of themselves skylarking/having fun or fishing or whatever it is they like doing and upload them to the APP. We then encourage the men to write a short sentence on what they were doing in that moment. 

Mindfulness works on the premise of keeping folks resent in the moment, so by stealth, we are getting these guys to do the same thing. 

What we also did, that was really important, was that we co-designed the “look and feel” of the app with men of the FIFO sector. So its been built by men for men. We did this because of those “safe spaces” I mentioned earlier. Men share in those spaces and the best folks to create those spaces is men themselves. 

YFRONTS aims to recreate those safe spaces, download it here and if you let us know what you think, we have a $3000 European trip up for grabs if you do. 

YFRONTS has been developed by Indigenist in partnership with CGA Consulting, LMB Industries, and Led By Design. 

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Ethical Language in Research – Against the Poverty Porn

*Updated version*

Cause marketing is most often put into use by corporate charities or philanthropic entities. They align with a cause that pulls at the public’s heartstrings, compelling a response; all the while providing a euphoric experience of ‘I’m helping”. These corporate charities and philanthropic entities rely on the emotional experience that comes with ‘helping’ to help them reach a bottom line. That may be financial, it may be professional or it may be social capital they are seeking. But what it also does is that it obfuscates the real issues and poverty reigns.


The reporting and portrayal of both suicide and mental illness in the media has its own set of guidelines. So why not research?

Poverty has the power to repel us. Poverty can also have us feeling a little guilty. Fixing that poverty has the power to bring us in and give a sense of goodwill. It can also elicit a strong emotional response like helplessness and guilt. But we often overcome that guilt when we see some one else, or ourselves, fix it and ‘help’ communities in poverty or people facing impoverished circumstances.

Charities are most often the prescribers of relief to poverty affected areas and impoverished people. Benevolence costs quite a bit to offer and is know to be big business. So it needs to draw you in. Poverty porn describes this big business. Matthew Colin describes poverty porn ‘any type of media…which exploits the poor’s condition in order to generate the necessary sympathy for selling newspapers or increasing charitable donations or support for a given cause.’ Poverty porn has a financial reward, and an emotional one.

Unbeknownst to many there is scurrilous cousin to poverty porn that escapes the limelight because vary rarely is it in it. You don’t see flashed across your TV screens, malnourished girls and boys (mostly always black) pumping water from a well. Their parents hoeing into dust bowl gardens, or Indigenous people in third world living arrangements.

Have you ever heard of The White-Savior Industrial Complex? If you haven’t, I suggest you read this by Teju Cole. Teju sent out a series of tweets that struck a chord with many folks. Some disagreed, some agreed. This one tweet in particular resonated with me, it reads.

– The white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening.

I have to admit, it’s emotive. But that’s ok, because poverty is as well. How we all respond to that emotion is key to whether we support brutal policies in the morning, and we found charities in the afternoon, and we receive awards in the evening.

What’s this go to do with the language of research and Indigenous suicide prevention? To put into context a large number of Indigenous Australians live in third world conditions and the life expectancy of Indigenous Australians is estimated to be 9-10 years lower than non-Indigenous Australians. Indigenous Australians are undeniably the most poverty-stricken and oppressed Australians in the country.

Much the Australian charity sector and the billions it attracts, so too does the Indigenous health industry, though its referred to as expenditure. However, the amount that has actually reached Indigenous Australians has been questioned and debunked. The unknown quantum that has been allocated to respond to the ill health of Indigenous Australian, mainly via non-Indigenous NGOs, commonwealth and state ‘programs’ and religious institutions to deliver services, continues to raise the ire of many Indigenous Australians.

Recently it was reported that suicide accounts for the one in 10 deaths of Indigenous Australians.

So, what can we do better?

Guidelines for reporting Indigenous suicide in the media ask for reporters to not sensationalise suicide and to be sure to place the story in context. They ask that the reporting and portrayal of both suicide and mental illness require sensitivity and to be carried out responsibly.

Does research into Indigenous suicide and mental illness require the same level of sensitivity and responsibility? I think so.

Guidelines for reporting Indigenous suicide in the media ask for reporters to not sensationalise suicide and to be sure to place the story in context, we need to have researcher do the same.

Remember, that Indigenous Health expenditure has to go somewhere. Making yourself or your organisation more attractive to this money via the exploitation of Indigenous people’s circumstances is an easy thing to do. Especially when there are no guidelines to hold you into account. The reward however, is not just economical. It can be professional and increase your or your organisation’s social capital and as Cameron Conaway, author of Malaria Poems, points out ‘researchers do not exactly have the greatest ethics track record when it relates to working with those most vulnerable,’ (via the Huffington Post).

What I propose is the need for Ethical Research Language (ERL) in Indigenous suicide prevention, but applicable to other minority/vulnerable groups. Ethical research language can be explained as ‘the written word used to communicate the systemic investigation in to Indigenous suicide grounded in the principles of morality’.

Millions upon millions is being spent ‘on’ Indigenous suicide, but when, as reported, one in 10 deaths are from suicide, something different needs to be done. Ethics applications can no longer just show intent. They need to show the real value that it places on the leadership of Indigenous Australian in the research done upon us.

When the principal investigator’s details and the co-investigator/associate investigator’s details are requested our names and knowledge need to be front and centre.

*this original version of this first appeared here The Stringer

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Plans Underway For A National First Nations LGBTI Peak Body “Black Rainbow”. 

Plans Underway For A National First Nations LGBTI Peak Body “Black Rainbow”. 

  • Same sex-attracted Australians are 14x more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers. 
  • Indigenous Australians are 2.5 times more likely to attempt. 
  • Making sex-attracted Indigenous Australians 35 times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual Australians.

So what’s being done about it ? See this MEDIA REALEASE from BLACK RAINBOW

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A few things.

1. Indigenous suicide is not about culture or a lack thereof, & 

2. It is not a matter of simply pulling up your bootstraps.

3. Preventative measures need to be anti-racist not resilience building.

4. Motivational evangelicalism is not an answer, it’s a business.

5. One life saved is not enough. 

6. Lived experience is valid, but it’s needs to also be able to inform and influence change.

7. Ego needs to come 2nd. It’s ok to not know. There is no expectation to know everything. 

8. Respect those that do know.

9. The prevention of suicide is an outcome. Suicide prevention is an output. Know that difference.

10. Solutions to the front, not horror.

Dameyon is the 2016 Dr. Yunupingu Human Rights Award recipient for his work toward the prevention of Indigenous suicide.

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MEDIA RELEASE: Thursday June 30 2016 – For immediate release. Indigenous Peak Suicide Prevention Body

 Black Rainbow set to become first peak Indigenous LGBQTI suicide prevention body and calls for greater inclusion of informed Indigenous people in executive and leadership positions across all functions of suicide prevention.

Australia’s newly formed peak Indigenous LGBQTI suicide prevention body is set to launch in the new financial year. After three years of relentless campaigning, conversations and valuable feedback, founder Dameyon Bonson says, ‘the time is right’.

“The announcement from the major parties in the lead up to this year’s election on their commitment to mental health and suicide prevention is encouraging and to be applauded,” he said.

“Black Rainbow also calls on party leaders to ensure that in the future directions of mental health and suicide prevention that leadership is demonstrated in the recruitment of informed Indigenous people as part of its execution and delivery. That the formation of a National Office for Suicide Prevention must include informed Indigenous Australians as part of its executive and leadership group. It is only through this inclusion, which is noticeably absent from the landscape, that rates of suicide in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities will be reduced.

Mr. Bonson echoes the call from Lowitja Institute CEO Romalie Mokak, that “Indigenous people should not just be brought to the table, but be made co- designers in the solutions”.
Black Rainbow supports the notion of a National Suicide Prevention Act, however, informed Indigenous Australians must be at the table co-designing from day one. For such an Act to be effective and sustainable, the process at all times must be one of equity otherwise we continue in discrimination.

To arrange to speak with Black Rainbow please contact via email,

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“this one’s for you”. 2016 Dr Yunupingu Award For Human Rights

Wow. If you would’ve said to me, when I was 13, that I’d be able to stand up here as a gay man and say that without any fear of retribution – I would’ve like to have heard it then. But to be able to do that today just shows how far we’ve come.

I’m so glad that my husband of seven years was able to join me this evening. We live in Broome, and I get to travel quite a bit with the work that I do. So this is kinda awesome for him to be here.

I’d like to thank everybody if I can. The Honorary member for NSW Parliament, Shaoquett Moselmane for hosting such an important event. To the Honorable Dame Marie Bashir for your eloquent keynote address and to the wonderful Natalie Ahmat for her MC skills this evening. Indeed, thank you for the path legends among our people like Dr. Yunupingu; for whom this award is in honour of – and indeed the lovely message this evening from Yalmay Yunupingu, his wife.

Just quickly, because I can get going a bit… So I work in upstream suicide prevention. That space, upstream is before people get unwell. And I been doing that for about seven years now. And the underlying factor to it all these suicides is actually racism.

The key theme that we need to keep powering on with is anti-racism. [Because] It’s in the policies, and it’s in the behaviours of people and organisations. So when I hear about the suicides and I see the devastation that it leads behind, somewhere in that person’s history is an act of racism. Whether it’s because they don’t have appropriate housing, or access to healthcare. We’re not talking about racism because someone won’t sit next to you on a bus. We’re talking about entrenched, systemic racism that is keeping our mob sick, and it’s killing them.

As a gay Aboriginal man, homophobia does that to our mob as well. So does transphobia. I run some workshops that look at sexuality and gender from a cultural standpoint. [For example] The barramundi changes gender – that’s a totem for some of our mob. The black swans, the males, they co-parent. The bearded dragon has a boyfriend. As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we are so in-tune with the country, and its animals and plants. Being gay, being transgender, it’s natural. What’s not natural is the homophobia that exists, and the transphobia that exists. Those two things, compounded by racism, make the group that I belong to – which is one of you mob, too- makes our lives even that more like hell.

We know from the work happening over in North America with the Native Americans there. If you’re a Native American person who is LGBTQI, you are the highest risk group of suicide than any other ethnicity of anyone else in that country. That kind of research work has not been done here yet. Personally, I refuse to wait for that work to be done, because when you look at what racism does to our people and then you look at what homophobia does to our people, and you combine those things together and it’s just deadly. Not that good deadly either. We’re talking about brothers and sisters who are killing themselves because people are saying that they don’t belong.

Apologies. I’m being remiss in not acknowledging the traditional owners, so I’d like to do that just before I say one final thing – The Gadigal people of the Eora nation, thank you. I love visiting your country, I really, really do. It’s beautiful.

If I can send one last message to any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person out there that is questioning their existence because they’re gay, they’re lesbian, they’re transgender, intersex, questioning, even queer – this one’s for you. You belong, you are loved, and we are one of the mob.

Thank you.

This is an edited version.

Dameyon Bonson, is the 2016 recipient of the Dr.  Yunupingu award for Human Rights. Previous recipients of this awards are Rosalie Kunoth-Monks in 2014 and Tauto Sansbury in 2015.