Culture and identity key to helping Indigenous mental health

July 25th, 2012
Indigenous communities that take steps to preserve their cultural past and control their civic lives experience better health and fewer suicides, according to a Canadian expert in Indigenous social and emotional wellbeing and suicide prevention.

Emeritus Professor Michael Chandler, former Professor of Psychology at The University of British Columbia in Canada, will deliver a free public lecture at The University of Western Australia on Thursday 9 August, as part of a national tour to share his knowledge.

Professor Chandler's visit was initiated by Professor Pat Dudgeon from UWA's School of Indigenous Studies, as part of her ARC Indigenous Researcher grant to investigate "Cultural Continuity and Change: Solutions to Indigenous Mental Health Issues".  The project will investigate the relevance of Professor Chandler's Canadian research to WA's situation. 

The Indigenous researcher network at the UWA-affiliated Telethon Institute for Child Health Research will host a panel forum on Friday 10 August with Professor Chandler, which will explore research findings from both countries on Indigenous cultural continuity and health.

Studies have shown that Australian Indigenous peoples' mental health and social and emotional wellbeing is well behind that of other Australians and a key contributor to the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.  The cumulative effect of inter-generational trauma and ‘malignant grief', combined with social and economic disadvantage, has resulted in high rates of psychological distress, substance abuse and self-harm.  In WA from 2004 to 2008 Indigenous suicides were triple that of other West Australians.

Professor Chandler's research among Canada's First Nations communities has found having a sense of identity and cultural continuity can help Aboriginal people, especially youth, to see they have a future.  Self-government, land rights, community-controlled services, women in positions of leadership and facilities dedicated to cultural purposes have all been identified as markers of cultural continuity.

Professor Chandler's research has strong relevance for Australian Indigenous communities and public policy. Sponsors of the visit include UWA, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation, WA's Commissioner for Children & Young People and Mental Health Commission.  The schedule includes government, academic and community meetings in Canberra, Perth and the Kimberley.

WHAT:              Free public lecture, How Cultural Continuity Reduces Suicide Risk in Indigenous Communities.

WHERE:            Social Sciences Lecture Theatre nearest car park, Hackett entrance 1.

WHEN:              Thursday 9 August at 6pm.

RSVP:                (08) 6488 1340.

Provided by University of Western Australia

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