Academic journal article Advances in Mental Health

Humility, Inquisitiveness, and Openness: Key Attributes for Meaningful Engagement with Nyoongar People

Academic journal article Advances in Mental Health

Humility, Inquisitiveness, and Openness: Key Attributes for Meaningful Engagement with Nyoongar People

Article excerpt

Introduction

Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?1 (T. S. Eliot)

Despite the apparent need for support and help, there is strong evidence that show that Aboriginal people still do not have access to mental health services at a level that corresponds with their need (Australian Government Productivity Commission, 2014). In Perth, Western Australia (WA), community consultation with local Nyoongar2 (Aboriginal) peoples has demonstrated concerns for the adequacy of mainstream mental health services to respond appropriately to the mental health needs of Nyoongar people (Wright, 2014; Wright, Culbong, Jones, O'Connell, & Ford, 2013; Wright & O'Connell, 2015).

We, the authors on this paper, are research colleagues on a mental health research project (Looking Forward Project) working with the Nyoongar people living in the south-east metropolitan suburbs of Perth, WA. The Looking Forward Project aims to change the way services respond to and are accessed by Nyoongar families experiencing mental illness. Researchers are usually located at the nexus of power in a dominant society. Thus, throughout this journey, we have been very conscious of not replicating or representing past poor research practices, particularly some practices that inadvertently re-oppress and disrespect Aboriginal3 culture and people (Wright, 2011). It was foremost in our minds that we would undertake a research process that would encourage decolonising practices (Dudgeon & Walker, 2015) and focus on inclusivity and transparency. It has been our experience that decolonising research practices require relationships that value and reflect honesty, and a willingness to be open to new ways of seeing the world and of learning, which are critical for meaningful engagement (Wright, 2011). Well-being and meaningful being demand meaningful engagement. Being connected to one's sense of self, and to others, as well as to country and culture poses a challenge to non-Aboriginal people and service providers in particular such that a holistic understanding is what is needed to meaningfully engage. Key findings of humility, inquisitiveness, and openness derived from the Looking Forward Project underpin the processes for forming and sustaining meaningful engagement.

This paper is structured around six key points. The first explores an argument for cultural, social, and spiritual change to be present in the provision of mental health and drug and alcohol service delivery for Aboriginal people. The second point explores the obvious dearth of meaningful and culturally safe service delivery as the primary reason for the lack of trust Nyoongar people have in the system. Third, we provide an outline of the participatory action research (PAR) process undertaken for this project, underpinned by Aboriginal ways of conducting research. Forth, we discuss how meaningful relationships need to be trustworthy, inclusive, adaptable, and reciprocal for them to be effective. The fifth point focuses on the research method of storying and the key research findings of humility, inquisitiveness, and openness within this process. Finally, the sixth point we discuss the exciting prospects of offering a way forward with new ways for working with Aboriginal people.

Necessity for cultural, social, and spiritual change

It is now well recognised and understood that there is an absolute need for cultural, social, and spiritual inclusion in the provision of mental health and drug and alcohol service delivery for Aboriginal people. What is less understood is how this can be achieved. The recent 2014 report Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage showed that some areas of health and well-being have improved for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, but in others there has been no significant sign of improvement and in some cases the situation has deteriorated and is now becoming, if not already, quite dire. …

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