A couple on a mission, Joe and Natasha Collard are breaking the stigma around mental health through the Birrdiya Aboriginal Mental Health First Aid workshops.

The proud Noongar duo run Birrdiya, an Aboriginal consultancy and advisory services company which provides a range of culturally appropriate services and solutions.

The Perth-based organisation delivers Cultural Events Management, Cultural Awareness Training, Traditional Language Workshops and the Aboriginal Mental Health First Aid (AMHFA) Training.

The AMHFA Training is a two-day workshop that offers strategies for those experiencing trauma, grief and loss, anxiety and depression, suicidal thoughts and feelings, or non-suicidal self-injury.

Birrdiya Managing Director Joe Collard said the workshops combine local traditional knowledge with tools and strategies that address the impacts of mental health issues.

“We have hundreds of trainers from all over Australia and they all work differently,” Collard told NIT.

“The workshops are run on Country …  It’s a form of healing to take our mob back to their land.

“We use our language, Dreamtime stories, bush tucker, meditation, going fishing; the things that ground us.”

Collard said community members with mental health issues often go years without diagnosis and start self-medicating—often to their detriment.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, WA has consistently recorded the highest death rate by suicide over the past decade.

WA’s Mental Health Commission also states WA had the highest age-standardised suicide rate among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people between 2016 and 2019.

“Our people are seeing the signs and symptoms in the community and not getting help,” he said.

“We need spaces to yarn and talk through community issues, we need people to share their experiences and offload.”

“This training is valuable to those that are a part of or working within the Aboriginal community.”

The structure of the AMHFA Training follows that of a general first aid course.

“We have an ALGEE [Assess, Listen, Give, Encourage, Encourage] process.” Collard said.

“It’s about being non-judgemental, listening, how to approach certain situations.

“We need people to become mental health trainers and we encourage everyone to come and be a part of the program.

“We want to encourage people to keep learning, and for organisations to continue their professional development.”

Collard said before the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent restrictions came about, the plan was to take the workshops to regional and remote communities—where suicide is at its highest in WA

The WA Government’s Learning from the message stick report found approximately one quarter of Indigenous deaths by suicide in Australia occur in WA, despite the state accounting for just 14 per cent of the country’s Indigenous population.

The report also highlighted communities such as Balgo, Fitzroy Crossing, Mowanjum and Derby have suicide rates up to 20 times the state average, with the very real possibility of underreporting of Aboriginal suicides.

It’s statistics like these that motivate the Collards to take their workshops to remote and regional areas.

“We wanted to go into the remote areas and have the ability to take the services to those communities,” he said.

“Our vision is for our people to be educated on Country.”

If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental ill-health, call or visit the online resources below:

 

By Darby Ingram