CEO Update - Healing isn't about fixing what's broken, it's about restoring connections and sharing responsibility...

 CEO Update, Mental Health Australia

Speaking frankly...                                               

Healing isn't about fixing what's broken, it's about restoring connections and sharing responsibility...

Yesterday, Mental Health Australia staff took part in a traditional ‘healing circle’, a NAIDOC Week event exploring Aboriginal cultural beliefs around healing or ‘recovery’ and its links to country and community.

Aunty Matilda spoke about how, in her own culture, the emphasis is not on the illness, problem or dysfunctional behaviour that needs to be fixed. Instead, there is this idea of a pathway that a person follows over the journey of their lifetime. Staying on this pathway delivers a sense of meaning and achievement, and an ever-developing sense of purpose and identity. ‘Healing’, in the Aboriginal sense of the word, is required when a person strays from this pathway.  

In Indigenous cultures, it is the shared responsibility of those who take part in the healing circle – community members, family, friends and Elders – to ensure that a person finds their way back to their pathway and stays the course. The idea that communities bear responsibility to solve one another’s problems and assist each other’s healing is a powerful one.

We have much to learn from this traditional wisdom that has enabled Indigenous cultures to survive and thrive in Australia, without many of the social ills that afflict their communities today, for thousands of years prior to colonisation.

In March last year, during a visit to the Ngalkanbuy Clinic on Elcho Island, I was fortunate enough to accompany a local mental health worker on her morning rounds to visit clients and other local community health facilities. As she shared her views with me, it couldn’t have been clearer that so much of what we impose on our Indigenous communities, with the very best of intentions, often makes no sense and serves to perpetuate systemic oppression.

After decades of lamenting social, political and health inequalities between white Australians and our First Nations’ Peoples, only in recent years have we begun to understand the value of traditional knowledge and healing practices to overall health and wellbeing.

In mental health, Indigenous concepts of wellbeing, illness and healing can teach us a lot. Learnings about our interrelationships with other people, our communities, our past experiences, and our environment can help us to develop systems and strategies to better support the needs of all Australians – regardless of ethnic, linguistic or cultural background – who experience mental health issues.

That is why it is so important to embrace events like NAIDOC Week and to make the most of opportunities that expose us to views and concepts usually viewed through a more mainstream cultural lens. This is so important if we are to solve the riddle of how to tackle mental illness and adequately support people across the cultural divide.

We know that Indigenous adults are 4 to 7 times more likely to experience mental health issues than non-Indigenous Australians. We know that Indigenous adults are still 7 times more likely to experience substance abuse disorders, and that risk of suicide among Indigenous Australians is 6 times greater than for non-Indigenous Australians.

NAIDOC Week reminds us of the importance of sharing wisdom and knowledge across cultures, of learning from the past, and of connecting and celebrating the cultural diversity that exists in Australia.

This year’s theme 'Because of her we can' is also an opportunity to celebrate the contributions that Indigenous women have made and continue to make to our understanding and awareness of contemporary Indigenous issues.

First Nations women were the carriers of the dreaming stories, songs, languages and knowledge that kept their culture strong for 65 thousand years prior to colonisation. And although Indigenous women continue to play active and significant roles at all levels of Australian society today - evidenced in one way by the impressively high rates of female representation on boards of Indigenous corporations - their roles are too often invisible, unsung or diminished. 

The reminder of the strength, contribution and resilience of First Nations women is aptly timed to join the growing chorus of voices calling on men to do more to grow a culture of respect around women and girls on the back of the #MeToo movement.   

And it is aptly timed to rally all of us in mental health to seek out and embrace Indigenous ideas of healing to enrich our knowledge base, improve our practice approaches, and develop the kinds of relationships and services that will be taken up and deliver outcomes in Indigenous communities.

But the most important thing we can take away from traditional Aboriginal healing practices and beliefs this NAIDOC Week, is a sense of community responsibility towards our First Nations’ Peoples for the wounds inflicted by past policies and events. And an understanding of the role that healing on a national level plays in closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health outcomes.

Warm regards.

Frank Quinlan

Chief Executive Officer

Next Week 

On Monday, I will be participating in a National Disability and Carer Advisory Council (NDCAC) Co-Chair Meeting via phone before attending the launch of the Australian Mental Health Leaders Fellowship at Melbourne University.

I will be in Sydney on Tuesday to attend a Suicide Prevention Australia workshop where we will be working to set advocacy priorities for suicide prevention.

I will be participating in a webinar on Wednesday hosted by the Australian Digital Health Agency. This webinar will provide an overview of the communications for consumers during the My Health Record opt-out period. Following this, I'm off to Melbourne for a panel discussion for the Australian Mental Health Leaders Fellowship around the topic: Leadership Challenges in Mental Health and Health Care.

On Thursday, I will catch up with Marc Purcell, CEO of the Australian Council for International Development, and our Director of Consumer and Carer Programs at Mental Health Australia, Kylie Wake, will attend the Australian Mental Health Leaders Fellowship placement coordinator meeting.


Mental Health Australia Member Profiles

The Mental Health Coalition of South Australia is the peak body for the non-government mental health sector in South Australia. Their vision is for all South Australians affected by mental illness to receive the support they need to live well in the community. Through their work, MHCSA aims to reduce stigma around mental illness, represent the sector and promote the role of the sector, and support people affected by mental illness.

Website is external)

The Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health (CRRMH), an initiative of the University of Newcastle, conducts high quality research and delivers evidence-based programs to improve the mental health and wellbeing of rural and remote residents in NSW. The Centre focuses on: the promotion of good mental health and the prevention of mental illness; developing the mental health system to better meet the needs of people living in rural and remote regions; and understanding and responding to rural suicide. CRRMH also works in partnership with Aboriginal communities to reduce Aboriginal suicide and suicide related behaviour. 

Website -



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