Black Dog Institute is creating a network of First Nations people for the new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience Centre, which will work towards building and delivering programs, services and care aimed at improving mental health outcomes.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience Centre will launch early 2021, however, Black Dog Institute is shining a light on the network this Reconciliation Week to raise awareness and encourage those with lived experiences to come forward and connect with the organisation.

Founded in 2002, Black Dog Institute is an internationally recognised, independent not-for-profit organisation that is a leader in identification, prevention and treatment of mental illness.

Quandamooka woman, Leilani Darwin, is head of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience Centre. Darwin spoke to NIT about the importance of this Reconciliation Week in regards to the new centre.

“This year’s Reconciliation Week is about being ‘In This Together’ and I feel the Lived Experience Centre demonstrates a research collaboration that is working towards giving control back to communities,” she said.

The centre development has been based on research guided by the National Suicide Prevention Trial, along with the organisation’s own research around the concept of lived experience.

“We held a workshop with lived experience participants from across the country who recognised either having lost someone to suicide or being a survivor of suicide,” Darwin said.

“That was kind of a real pivotal point for us because we were able to create a report [that shows] we are not the problem; we are part of the solutions.”

“I think this is what I really value with the Black Dog Institute, they’re understanding that it is not about them leading this process, it is about bringing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be self-determined in that leadership and to make sure that what we are doing is culturally appropriate and informed.”

The centre has a very strong cultural advisory group and governance model which enables programs to have roots in community.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience Centre, whilst a national network, is moving to ensure that the centre will have place-based networks in small communities.

“We are going to support local areas to set up their own lived experience networks where they have self-identified [what they need]. We [will] come in and provide all the training, all of our resources, but they are self-determined in what that really looks like,” Darwin said.

“That is them owning what it looks like and making sure they customise it to their local area as it will be different in different areas.”

Darwin has a strong passion for her work and immense hope for the work the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience Centre can do.

“I lost my Mum to suicide when I was ten and I am a survivor of suicide a few times. I have a current diagnosis of mental illness and I think it is really important that we have more voices and more people who can help inform and make changes,” she said.

“I’ve seen the power of our natural way of sharing stories … we stop being statistics, we stop being overrepresented—we are humans and we have [a] story that comes with that and it is incredibly powerful and courageous to share that.

“We need to support our community to feel comfortable and confident in [sharing their stories]. We understand that it is a difficult topic for our communities to talk about, and there is still a lot of shame and stigma.

“I would encourage people to understand through their vulnerability there is more often than not people who can connect … who can see that you’ve come through a journey of recovery and of healing and that there is hope for the future. Together we can fix this.”

For more information on Black Dog Institute and their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Lived Experience Centre, visit: https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/education-services/aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-network/.

By Rachael Knowles