The power of ‘we’
October 1, 2014
Results do matter
October 20, 2014

Creating safe, supportive environments to improve mental health

By Pamela Nathan

With Mental Health Week and the ABC’s terrific ‘Mental As’ initiative, the spotlight is shining brightly on all aspects of mental health – ‘good’ mental health, ‘poor’ mental health, preventative mental health measures, funding (particularly the lack of), and the whole spectrum of ‘mental illnesses’ and their associated stigma.

And this is a good thing.

The biggest step forward in overcoming a problem is acknowledging it, discussing it, and giving all who are affected by the problem a voice. This can be an incredibly empowering process. It also requires input from all involved – herein lies the problem. Often, those with the most power don’t see themselves as being part of the problem. Anyone who watched the QandA Mental As special on the ABC on Monday night would have witnessed this very clearly in the way certain debates unfurled.

The purpose of CASSE is to promote safe, supportive environments through the psychoanalytic understandings of the emotional, psychic and social worlds of individuals, families and communities. Through our Aboriginal Australian Relations Program, we work with Aboriginal people in the here and now to understand the emotional experiences of psychic pain, intergenerational trauma, violence (including suicide) and other problem behaviours of psychological suffering. It’s about changing minds, strengthening spirits and saving lives.

The way in which we work with Aboriginal communities can apply just as readily to any community. We work in partnership with Aboriginal communities, developing individual relationships, too, talking about the “problem life”, gaining direct and immediate understandings of the states of mind and hearts that have generated ongoing suffering, and work to achieve psychological change. Rather than blame or pathologise, we work from a position of mutual responsibility for relationships and damage done. We work with people and leaders to find a community spirit of healing, responsibility and renewal. We work with the strengths and beliefs of Aboriginal people – imagination, adaptation, survival struggle, kinship, generosity, cultural life and spirit. We work with the “shame” of the “Whitefellah”. We work together to find a mutual humanity, new possibilities for living and creative ways of living together in two worlds.

But most importantly we sit down together on country, listen and talk, “walking in my tracks”, creating new connections, changing minds and saving lives!

I applaud the ABC for putting mental health on the pedestal it deserves. Let’s all embrace this opportunity to encourage those who are too often silenced by the burden and stigma of mental illness to start conversations about how we can create safer, more supportive environments for everyone within our communities – at home, in our neighbourhood, in our state, in our country and beyond.