Image: Young and old coming together to discuss suicide prevention and the challenges often presented by the daily struggle of life
This last week has been an incredible validation of the approach that Babana Aboriginal is taking when it comes to the prevention of suicide amongst our Aboriginal and Torres Strait community in and around the inner City of Sydney. For the last four years Babana have been quietly working away building awareness, developing resources and educating our mob on the benefits of not only talking about the way they feel and what is happening in their lives but also the importance of listening with out judgement. A fortnight ago hundreds of our community, service providers and people from across the State gathered at our annual suicide prevention awareness day. What was different this year wasn’t so much the numbers but the breadth of conversation and the vast number of challenges that were facing people – from the daily struggle of life through to living with mental health conditions, from struggling with addictions to inter generational trauma.
As we spent the day unpacking a raft of issues we began to see a picture emerge where a lot of things were intertwined. For example, take someone’s ability to be independent away and they will surely suffer. Their confidence will dwindle and they begin to move into a world of depression and second guessing themselves. This is particular evident when someone has little or no access to employment for a range of reasons – sometimes the system is less interested in what is happening in someone’s life and more interested in placing them into a job that they either cannot do or are not supported to do. Then there is also the issues of both unconscious and conscious bias by both job services providers and employees about how they view Aboriginal people. Then there are those who lack access to safe and secure housing – constantly worrying about where they may lay their head that night. Its one thing to want to provide someone with a place to stay in the short term but what is the long term plan and what are the underlying challenges that face someone who is faced with homelessness? In both of those scenarios each of the other is not disconnected – often, from what we see all the time, they are often linked. Then there is the spiral into the very things that end up as lubricants to medicate the problem away – the very thing that creates addiction. In those moments where we want all of our problems to go away we run the risk of making decisions that we may not have made.
Of course these are but some examples that see people spiral out of control and yet at each stage where someone’s life has fallen off the rails there was an opportunity to intervene; an opportunity to support the person and bring them back from the edge. Its also a myth that suicide is a young persons disease of they are the only ones that struggle. In actual fact we have seen an increase in the number of older people who are at risk of homelessness and those who are moving towards their retirement or later years are often more at risk of long term unemployment. Then there is the issue of low rates of savings and retirement income amongst Aboriginal peoples compared to non-Aboriginal which often leads to dependency on the State or family – family who can also often be struggling with keeping up with the daily cost of living or who might also be struggling with depression. For older people the sense of needing to be secure and safe when they can no longer work comes down to a couple of basics – secure and safe housing in an environment where they feel most comfortable and where it is familiar; when they can no longer do the things that would otherwise do such as mow the lawns or get to a doctors appointment that someone is their to support them; where they are socially connected and not isolated.
This is why the model of support in retirement is so important and where there is a significant opportunity to both create jobs and provide support all at the same time – particularly in places where there may not be a lot of opportunities available. And this is what we are doing here at ANNECTO – we are not just helping people to ensure they feel safe and secure in retirement, nor are we just ensuring they can get to the Doctors or help them take care of their home – its also about job creation and supporting the growth of small business. We do this by ensuring that when we enter into a community we become part of the community. In Kempsey, New South Wales, this is playing out exactly that way – but we have also added another ingredient – by ensuring we empower our clients and our workers to build the things they believe are necessary to sustain a healthy and well community – from a café where mob can gather and yarn, talk and listen, to the opportunity to both participate and lead community events that build social connectivity and inclusion – right through to ensuring we support local Indigenous small business to grow and flourish – thereby increasing the level of employment opportunities and build skills that are transferrable and life-long.
In other words we have taken the daily struggle of life that can exist at each end of the life spectrum and addressed it in a unique and innovative way. As Mark Spinks, Chairman of Babana Aboriginal Men’s Group often says “address the daily struggle and we can go a long way to addressing the struggles that often hide in the dark, eating away at people until its too late. Focus on the small things and we can end up addressing the big things.”
The theme of Babana Aboriginal’s Suicide Awareness Day was “Talk without and fear and listen without judgement” and that’s exactly what we all need to do a lot more of. Not just in our personal lives but also when it comes to business, community and society.
About the author: Mike Hercock: State Manager NSW and the ACT for ANNECTO https://www.annecto.org.au/ annecto clients include people with disabilities, older people, families and carers who want advice, advocacy and support. We deliver personal services to help you feel safe and comfortable at home.
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