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Well-being for Mob, leading up to and following the referendum

Jess Whaler -

If you need to talk to someone, call 13YARN on 13 92 76 (24 hours/7 days) to talk with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Crisis Support worker. For mental health support, see your local ACCHO, AMS, GP, or Social and Emotional Wellbeing service. See here for more information and links.

In the lead up to the referendum the National Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing Research has flagged concern for the wellbeing for First Nations people.

Regardless of the outcome, they said the decision will have significant impact on community members and now would be a good time to start talking about wellbeing and check in with each other.

The research centre resides at the Australian National University and was established in 2022, to contribute toward improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing.

It is now under the new leadership of former Healing Foundation Chief Executive Officer Fiona Cornforth, whose accomplishments during her tenure with the foundation were significant.

Ms Cornforth provided her tips to staying well during this period.

"I think my main tip would be that the resources and tips that are being gathered are only impactful if they are actually accessed," she said.

"Stick them on fridges, device home screens and schedule in time each day to share a tip that resonates with you with a chat group.

"We all have different crack-it lines, and staying away from them is about eating and sleeping well, debriefing with trusted friends and family and moving the body. Going for a walk with a friend to grab some lunch for example where you talk about what's getting on your nerves in the media, covers off on 3, and possibly 4 of those."

Dr Raymond Lovett, a Wongaibon man, Associate Professor Katie Thurber, are working together to establish what worries and concerns First Nations persons have with regard to mental health and wellbeing surrounding the referendum and have developed a range of fact sheets and tools that have been dispersed to Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to assist with providing support.

The team have reported that along with the additional efforts of responding to non-indigenous questions, instances of encounters with racism are ramping up and in some instances there is divide within families and communities, all of which can trigger a range of mental health concerns.

Their research has indicated that a primary factor causing additional stress and anxiety, is that the proposed alteration to the Constitution is about recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, which means that Indigenous identity is closely linked to if not at the core of these referendum debates.

A research participant stated: "I go onto social media and I see people debating … It's like who I am inside is the debate."

"It almost feels like entertainment for other people … It's a direct attack on who I am as a person and how I relate to my world and family which, I think, is the part that people don't really understand," they said.

The Healing Foundation have also provided a number of tips to keep our spirits strong, and our families and communities supported, they are as followed:

Acknowledge the impact of racism on ourselves and others. Racism has an impact on physical and mental health, and is a source of trauma. Knowing this and be aware of the stressors and symptoms can help us to understand what is happening, manage the effect and help others.

Being mindful, implementing mindfulness and meditation techniques such as deep breathing and awareness techniques can help us to ground and manage symptoms. Staying connected, it is normal to experiences feelings of increased isolation as a symptom of racial stress. Participating in social activities with family and friends and talking with people can help.

Take care of our health. Eating well and exercising are important ways that we can help to keep our minds and bodies strong. Little things like going for a walk with a friend or learning to cook a new meal are small and simple acts that can help keep us strong.

Speak your truth. Don't feel obligated to contribute to a conversation if the content is stressful for you. Feel free to say "This conversation is making me uncomfortable, I would like to excuse myself" or change the subject.

Culture is strength. Practicing culture through activities like connecting to country or creating art are powerful ways that we can process our experiences in a safe environment and find strength when our reserves are running low.

An expert in journalism and Indigenous Affairs who has been at the forefront of sensitive and controversial topics for over thirty years, Karla Grant told National Indigenous Times her tips for well-being during this difficult time.

Ms Grant said: "This is a really hard time for First Nations people I feel because, you know, a lot of people are turning to us for answers and advice, and they want to know, what this is all about.

"It can get to a point where you're overloaded with it. Don't feel like you have to have all the answers. Don't feel like you have to answer all the questions about it because you don't you can just walk away from it and give yourself a break from it," she said.

"A lot of First Nations people feel as though you know, they have to be the ones that are constantly educating and telling people about certain things and it comes down to that cultural load that we all we all carry that and, you know, for ourselves, for our family and for our communities and for our people as a whole and it does weigh heavily on us.

"I think the best advice would be just to take time out if you need to just take that time out to yourself. You can always direct people to like I said, there's a lot of information online now. You can always point people in different directions and sort of say, well, there's a really good report here or there's really good resources here."

Ms Grant encouraged people to be mindful of the impact of social media.

"Social media can be a good thing, and sometimes it can be a bad thing as well. It's just how people use it and if it's used in the right way, then it can be, you know, beneficial in terms of getting information out and things like that. But when it starts becoming, you know, this sort of toxic environment and a toxic place to be, then it's just, it's not good," she said.

"Those people are sitting behind their computers, you know, they can just do whatever they please and you know, and it's very hard for you to really well, you can't really do anything about it. There's no point in trying to reply back to any of these tweets or whatever it might be, because that just adds more fuel to the fire. So it's really that, but at the same time, those people those people need to be reported."

If you experience online harm, it is important to know that you have a role in stopping this, the e-Safety Commissioner is working hard to stamp out anti-social and harmful online behaviour, please report incidents here.

Social media platforms also have reporting options which should be used.

Along with informative brochures, The National Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing Research have pulled together a list of support services.

If you need crisis support: Call 13YARN on 13 92 76 (24 hours/7 days) to talk with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Crisis Support worker. This crisis line is run by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It is a free and confidential service.

Find more information at:

If you are looking for mental health support: contact your local ACCHO, AMS, GP, or SEWB service. See for a map of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations, or see here for a list of services.

For resources around mental health, wellbeing, and social and emotional wellbeing: Visit Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Australia, the peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social and emotional wellbeing, mental health, and suicide prevention, and the Healing Foundation, an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation promoting trauma-aware, healing-informed practice.

For help in supporting others: Mob want to be there to support each other. Getting support from people with lived experience is valuable to ensure the care you receive is culturally safe. See the Stronger Together webpage by R U OK for stories and practical tips to empower you to support others.

For self-care resources: The Healing Foundation has outlined some tips for looking after yourself and keeping your family and community strong. For resources for service providers: See WellMob for online resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander frontline health and wellbeing workers, with a focus on social and emotional wellbeing.

For resources for service providers: See WellMob for online resources for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander frontline health and wellbeing workers, with a focus on social and emotional wellbeing.

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