Cultural Context Matters

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health First Aid®

Whether we are giving or receiving care, the conversations and supports offered need to be relevant to the individuals involved. To hold genuine, meaningful, and practical conversations about mental health problems, we must first understand the importance of cultural context. For Mental Health First Aid, this means consideration must be given to factors such as cultural heritage, belief systems, local languages, culturally relevant imagery, social norms and traditions, and community wellbeing.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health Frist Aid® (AMHFA) course is developed, reviewed and delivered by and in consultation with Australian First Nations peoples. This provides much needed cultural context to community-based care.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been around for tens of thousands of years and have handed down knowledge and healing practices that have kept their people strong and well across generations. The information in AMHFA courses is evidence-based and aims to add to these resources and approaches.

The course draws on the experience and expertise of over 200 accredited Instructors who are diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, from metropolitan, regional and remote communities around Australia. At present, the program team is 100% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander – a representation that is important to the validity of the program, and which benefits both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous participants.

“Our courses are designed to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Instructors to draw from their own unique and instrumental local cultural knowledge. This sets our training apart, as it is enriched with culturally informed and relatable content”

Karen Bates, Program Manager for AMHFA, a proud Barkindji woman.

Why is cultural context important for mental health?

    Mental Health Problems are a personal and community challenge the world over. Their prevalence is cause for both concern and action, and we need to consider both whole of population approaches, and dedicated support for populations that are at higher risk due to past and current contributing factors.

    Mental health problems disproportionately impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Additionally, many First Nations communities have exposure to risk factors alongside inherent barriers to culturally capable supports and limitations in access to clinical care.

    Community-centred mental health training solutions are important to First Nations people and communities because:

    • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicide rates and psychological distress are high.
    • First Nations communities and people are often battling with transgenerational trauma, loss and grief.
    • Communities are diverse in location, cultural beliefs and practices, local networks, and socio-economic profiles.
    • Conceptual translations may differ for concepts such as mental illness, suicide, and self-injury.
    • There is a collective desire among First Nations people to focus on healing and the future, while also honouring tradition and heritage.
    • People retain knowledge and develop skills better if the context of training content is relevant, relatable, easy-to-understand and respectful.
    • There is still a gap in the equity of services and supports available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and we need to close it.

    When we respect the collective and individual diversity of people – with acknowledgement of needs, challenges, strengths and differences – we are better able to tailor support that makes a real difference on-the-ground.  

    “Our course curriculum includes contemporary adaptions of training delivery and materials that gives a much greater inclusiveness to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. It utilises techniques such as cultural ‘yarn ups’ to generate relevant discussion and ideas. It takes into account local perspectives and experiences and utilises lived-experience stories and First Nations photography, film and art works. This representation truly matters, and it leads to better outcomes for both the training participants, and then in turn the people they will go on to support.”

    Karen Bates 
    Program Manager, AMHFA 

    What makes the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander program so unique?

    The Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Mental Health First Aid (AMHFA) Program is led by Aboriginal professionals and recognises the need for culturally responsive mental health training to empower individuals and communities. r

    All AMHFA courses have been developed by an Aboriginal Curriculum Developer in consultation with the AMHFA Program Team and Instructors. We do this to ensure that the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Instructors who deliver the training are able to to draw upon their own unique and instrumental local cultural knowledge, which helps to further  enrich the content and enable culturally informed and safe delivery to all Australians. . The AMHFA courses are based on guidelines developed through the expert consensus of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander mental health professionals, many of whom also have lived experience of mental health problems. Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander film makers, lived experience stories, and actors are also engaged in the development of materials.

    AMHFA courses ensure that participants are grounded in social and emotional well-being from an Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander perspective. Strength based courses focus on reducing stigma and shame and building the confidence to talk about mental health. They assist participants to recognise signs, hold safe and supportive conversations, and connect people with follow-up care. They use a culturally specific adaptation of the evidence based ALGEE®  model (Approaching, Listening, Giving Support, Encouraging Professional Help, and Encouraging Other Supports).

    “The videos of real people’s experiences were powerful and very moving. More people should do this this course…Both non-Indigenous and Indigenous alike.” – Course Participants, 2021.

    Variations and course options include: 

    Core Courses:

    Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander MHFA

    14-hour face-to face course for adults assisting an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person; it is also adapted to be available via blended face to face, and online delivery modes.

    From a culturally informed perspective participants learn how to assist an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander adult who may be experiencing a mental health problem or mental health crisis until appropriate professional help is received or the crisis resolves, using a practical, evidence-based action plan.

    This AMHFA is suitable for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults, and non-Indigenous adults interested in supporting members of their community or workplace. This includes: 

    • Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander People (Elders, Leaders, Community Members)
    • Adults working with/supporting Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander People e.g.:
      • Family members
      • Clinicians
      • Frontline health and support workers
      • Employers, Managers and HR professionals
      • Community care providers
      • Emergency services personnel
      • Interested local community member  

    Youth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander MHFA

    14-18 hour face-to-face course for adults supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people. The course is designed with some flexible delivery options for Instructors to tailor the course to the needs of the participants, this includes extended activities in core modules as well as optional modules; it is also adapted to be available via blended face to face, and online delivery modes.

    This informative and strengths-based course will teach you how to assist Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander young people who may be experiencing a mental health problem or mental health crisis until appropriate professional support is received or the crisis resolves, using a practical, evidence-based action plan.

    Youth AMHFA is suitable for by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults, and non-Indigenous adults interested in supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in their school or community. This includes:

    • Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander People (Elders, Leaders, Community Members)
    • Adults working with/supporting young Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander People e.g.
      • Parents
      • Family members
      • School staff
      • Carers
      • School Counsellors/Psychologists
      • Youth social workers or support workers
      • Clinicians working with young people
      • Coaches or other leaders working with youth in community
      • Frontline staff engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth
      • Interested local community members

      Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health First Aid Instructor Training

      Mental Health First Aid focuses on grassroots mobilisation through education of individuals who become champions for mental health and suicide prevention. It thrives with the dedication, skills and networks of local-area Instructors who are themselves Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. People who are interested in becoming an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander MHFA (AMHFA) accredited Instructor to support their community, can undertake a Train-the-Instructor style course.

      “Both Instructors ‘were known in our community therefore the trust, respect and rapport were already established. [We] felt comfortable to share with the group.” – AMHFA course participant, 2021.

      This is a 5-day intensive training course delivered face-to-face by our experienced Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Instructor Trainers.

      Further information on benefits to workplaces and individuals, how to apply and other useful details are via the links below:

      Become an Instructor

      https://mhfa.com.au/be-an-instructor

      How to Apply

      https://mhfa.com.au/how-apply-become-mhfa-instructor

      Specialised Short Courses

      Mental Health First Aid Australia also offers targeted courses aimed at further developing knowledge and skills around topics impacting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. These courses are aimed at adults supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities, and are delivered by our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander MHFA Instructors who have had further training to deliver these specialist courses:

      • Blended Online Mental Health Yarns (eLearning and Instructor delivery): The course is for general community level information and is designed as an opportunity to understand mental health problems across communities and to learn general skills to support self and others. The course does not assume any existing mental health knowledge, and does not provide clinical information about mental health conditions or require completion of assessments. The course contains comprehensive visual and spoken content to support accessibility.
      • Talking about Suicide (5-hour face-to-face): Participants learn the skills and acquire the knowledge required to safely have a conversation with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person experiencing suicidal thoughts and behaviours, using three evidence based key actions.
      • Talking about Gambling (5-hour face-to-face): Participants will learn the skills and acquire the knowledge to safely identify, approach and support an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person experiencing gambling problems, using a practical, evidence based Action Plan.
      • Talking about Non-Suicidal Self Injury (5-hour face-to-face): Participants learn the skills and acquire the knowledge to safely have a conversation with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person engaging in non-suicidal self-injury, using three evidence based key actions.

        Empowered Impact for First Nations People and Communities

         To date, Mental Health First Aid Australia has trained thousands of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Non-Indigenous Australians through AMHFA courses.

        This training supports a safety-net of community-based care, that complements existing services and fills gaps for mental health and suicide prevention support. It generates positive mental health literacy around the unique needs and strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and grows the capacity for local communities to play an active role in mental health, while valuing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and knowledge.

        By upskilling local people, as both Mental Health First Aiders® and Instructors we empower people to make a culturally safe and relevant impact in their workplaces, schools, communities and homes. This is both cost efficient and sustainable for the long-term.

        “We want mental health first aid to be a contributing factor in how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities can thrive. The proof that it works is already evident in the evaluations we run and the overwhelmingly positive feedback we receive,” says Karen Bates, AMHFA’s Program Manager.

          Convinced that an AMHFA course is right for you?

          Find out more or Enrol in a course today.

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