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Flinders project examines potential role of social media in young Indigenous men's mental wellbeing

Joseph Guenzler -

Flinders University is spearheading a project to investigate the potential of social media in enhancing the mental wellbeing of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men.

The initiative aims to create a culturally secure platform for discussing sensitive subjects, providing a means to alleviate feelings of isolation and loneliness.

The Young Black Men in the Northern Territory (YBMenNT) initiative secures significant funding from Movember and will facilitate the development and testing of an online health promotion program focusing on social and emotional wellbeing, in partnership with young Indigenous men.

Deputy Dean Rural and Remote Health NT, College of Medicine and Public Health, James Smith notes the lack of specialised health and well being services afforded to Indigenous men.

"Few digital health promotion programs are tailored towards the unique health, social and cultural needs of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males – despite their disproportionate experience of mental health concerns, suicide ideation and suicide," he said.

Unfortunately, the Australian Bureau of Statistics data underscores a concerning reality - the suicide rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males is double that of their non-Indigenous counterparts.

This stark discrepancy is attributed to systemic inequities, encompassing educational disadvantage and cultural dislocation.

National Project Coordinator – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Male Health, Jason Bonson further notes the difficulties young Indigenous men face when it comes to speaking up about mental health.

"It's acknowledged that mental health is a tough subject for a lot of men to talk about," he said.

"We want to provide an online program for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men that can be delivered through a private social media group such as Facebook or Instagram that aims to encourage positive and open discussions about mental health, cultural identity and progressive concepts of manhood and masculinities."

"By using a private forum on social media, we can offer a space where young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men can talk in comfort and confidence about issues that they might not feel comfortable discussing anywhere, or to anyone else," he said.

YBMenNT, tailored for young men in the Northern Territory, draws inspiration from the US-based YBMen project.

Originally crafted to reshape gender norms, enhance mental health, and foster social support for young Black men, this adaptation aims to address the unique needs of its Northern Territory participants.

"By collaborating with community-led organisations, we have created a program that is socially relevant and relatable in order to engage young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men in discussions about mental health literacy, help-seeking, progressive concepts of manhood and masculinities and their emerging cultural identities," Mr bonson said.

The modified program will enable culturally sensitive, age-appropriate, and gender-specific online discussions.

Utilising YouTube videos, song lyrics, and current news headlines, participants can engage in a private forum to share their perspectives, ideas, challenges, and thoughts on mental health, manhood, and social support.

Young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men (aged 15-25) in the Greater Darwin area of the Northern Territory will receive the program through weekly one-hour sessions.

These sessions, spanning six consecutive weeks, are scheduled to commence in February 2024.

"The outcomes of our project will help us to identify the best approaches to sustainably maintain and potentially scale up the YBMenNT program over the longer-term," said Professor Smith.

"Our approach has significant potential to enhance the health and educational outcomes of young Indigenous males both nationally and globally."

"It will also provide world-first comparative data with other diverse groups of young men of colour."

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