Amplify Blog - The Voice
A QFCC Youth Advocate shares their experience post The Voice referendum and addresses the mental health fallout for First Nations people.
Part 1: The impact of the referendum
On October 14, I went numb. That was the day that my years of advocacy felt suffocated and pushed underneath the rug like it had never occurred.
On October 15, I called my mum, and I was hysterical on the phone. The pain I felt was so overwhelming, it felt like I was having a panic attack. I knew as a mixed person, my dad wouldn’t understand, so I went to seek refuge with my mum. That day felt like a haze, but I remember looking at mum who seemed less distraught than me and when I asked, she said, “darling, I have experienced so many failed policies for our people, this experience is one I have endured before”.
As the next few days passed, I watched everyone move on with their lives. Social media stories that once posted “Vote Yes” or discussed First Nations rights turned into oat latte’s and eggs on toast within hours. I immediately thought, here I am mourning, here my mob are mourning and the most of Australia do not care. More recently, I watched people who were volunteering for Yes campaigns joking about referendum outcomes. But don’t you worry, our people are strong.
Whilst I acknowledge that the political conversation was nuanced with a yes, racist no vote and progressive no vote – it should have never been political. This is an issue where we talk about our jarjums, incarceration, accessibility to health services and more. It was never about ‘taking-over’ nor any political agenda. If Australia is scared to recognise its First Nations people and have a legislated advisory body, I don’t think we should be proud to be Australian.
This referendum has brought about heightened racism that was once hidden out on the forefront. I have never felt so scared to wear my Indigenous clothing nor proudly exist in this country. I watched the referendum tear apart my Indigenous and non-indigenous family. I have seen lateral violence at a higher height than it has ever been. Yet, I fail to see Australia coming together to support First Nations people.
Part 2: How do we address the mental health fallout?
This brings to my biggest concern and point of advocacy: Where is the support for our First Nations people entering another mental health crisis?
Our people are resilient, but they can’t keep getting let down and right now a lot of us aren’t ok. I have watched my First Nations friends and family heartbroken. They are expected to move on and function with minimal culturally safe support networks available; and those that are available are extremely overrun or underfunded. It is further noted that due to the high percentage of no votes, some mob feel that most of society have rejected them – this is why culturally safe mental health services are in dire need right now. However, there is a lack of support services for mob wanting to enter the mental health field or wanting to receive mental health services from mob. We need to decolonise our services.
So how do we decolonise our services?
Did you know that there are only 218 Indigenous psychologists in Australia? Yes, you heard me right, less than 1% of our psychologists hold the knowledge of a primary First Nations cultural lens in a significant area of mental health care. This is crucial to understanding that the existing westernized mental health system harms First Nations people through a lack of understanding of culture. Hence, understanding critical structural drivers of inequality including racism and colonialism are the first step. In decolonising mental health services, it is important that an ‘upstream’ approach is used which moves beyond individual risk factors which are often harmful to neglecting structural drivers that influence mental health. Moreover, it is important that a strength-based approach is used as First Nations people have lived most of their lives being told deficit-based narratives. This is something that rarely occurs in our mental health care for mob and right now it is needed to address the fallout of the referendum.
This leads me to my next point: include Indigenous knowledges, worldviews and epistemologies. First Nations people hold a rich culture that provides a beautiful perspective on the world. To achieve culturally competent and safe mental health care, Indigenous knowledge must be at the forefront. In a simple example, if you were receiving mental health services from a Japanese perspective, it would most likely not work due to cross-cultural clashes in diagnoses and overall care. So, why do we fail to implement decolonised, First Nations perspectives?
Australia, we are entering a mental health crisis for our First Nations people, and we need to start taking action. We need to decolonise our system and start backing our First Nations people. Do not forget us, walk beside us. We need you now more than ever.
Always was, always will be.