Culturally capable wellbeing support and
the power of community

National NAIDOC week is a time for Australians from all-walks-of-life to come together and acknowledge the rich, long history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, heritage and achievements. In recognition and celebration of this year’s theme ‘Heal Country’, Karen Bates, Program Manager Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health First Aid (AMHFA) shares her thoughts and experiences as a reminder of the importance of culture and identity in effective mental health support.

I am a proud Barkindji woman originally from the far west of New South Wales along the Darling River and have strong connections in South Australia. I come at the topic of mental health both from my experience as an Aboriginal woman, and as the Program Manager for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Mental Health First Aid. I am passionate and committed to improving the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples now and for our future generations.

NAIDOC week for me is about Australia coming together to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander achievements, and about valuing the diversity within our communities. It is about recognising that First Nations peoples have the oldest living cultures on the planet. Culture matters – in the richness it provides our country and all its people, and in the way we care for others. Recognising and respecting a person’s culture makes us more attune to who they are, how they experience the world, and what they need to be happy and healthy. For people experiencing a mental health problem this is important, and can shape the way we empathise, connect and offer support to others. Culturally capable mental health care must consider the backgrounds, cultures, languages, experiences, skills and aspirations of communities and individuals, alongside addressing the unique challenges they face. We recognise that this isn’t always easy – every community and person is different. This makes community-based support even more important and remarkably effective. Real people making a real difference when and where it is needed.

This NAIDOC Week, in celebration of our First Nation’s cultures and the imperative for nation-wide healing (as promoted by this year’s theme ‘Heal Country!’), I want to draw on the power and strengths that our communities hold. By empowering individuals with the knowledge, confidence and skills to support one another, we grow the capacity for local responses to the mental health care crisis facing our nation. While mental ill health impacts people from all walks of life, there is still a significant gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This gap is widened when there is not access to culturally safe care. 

Both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous people have a role to play. If we want to make a real difference to the lives and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities then we need many hands. We need to give a dedicated time and place to discussing the topic of wellbeing, and the culturally specific ways of ‘being’ and ‘doing’ of our diverse peoples. We need to deliver mental health education that acknowledges how wellbeing connects to land, culture, family and community.  

‘Many of my misconceptions about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health no longer exist, and I have gained a greater understanding of struggles Indigenous people face.’

Our Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander MHFA program provides a culturally appropriate time and space to learn about providing mental health first aid to an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person. We have tailored programs to support both adults and youth. These programs focus on strengths and bring local area knowledge, yarn ups and a less clinical approach to mental health training.

MHFA has over 200 dedicated Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Instructors who live and work in community. They understand that certain practices and beliefs can differ between cultures and language groups. They can adapt content to acknowledge different kinships, family obligations, spiritual beliefs and cultural practices. They share this knowledge with both our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous participants, while skilling them on how to recognise and respond to developing, worsening or crisis point mental health problems.

A recent quote from one of our AMHFA course participants highlights the power that this holds in making people feel safe and accepted:

Both Instructors were known in our community, therefore the trust, respect and rapport were already established. We felt comfortable to share with the group.’

Additionally, we have consistently positive feedback from our non-Indigenous participants, many who live and work with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities:

‘The videos of real people’s experiences were powerful and very moving. More people should do this course…Both non-Indigenous and Indigenous alike.’

‘Many of my misconceptions about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health no longer exist, and I have gained a greater understanding of struggles Indigenous people face.’

The important difference with our programs is that while anyone can participate and benefit, only those with culturally specific experience, knowledge and understandings can deliver our training. Our delivery approach also actively incorporates the use of local Instructors wherever practical, which helps to facilitate an increase in mental health knowledge and skills across larger numbers of people within local communities in a practical and sustainable way. 

I have had the pleasure of being an AMHFA Instructor for many years and have witnessed the importance and positive impact the course has had on individuals and communities from many different walks-of-life and cultural backgrounds. I am now fortunate to be in a role where I have an opportunity to grow the program further.

This NAIDOC week, while acknowledging the vibrant first nation’s cultures across our beautiful country, I hope to inspire others to look into what they can do to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and wellbeing. Together we can contribute to our collective responsibility towards healing our country, and our nation. There is power in all of us for this change.

by Karen Bates
Program Manager
Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander, Mental Health First Aid

For more information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander MHFA visit: https://mhfa.com.au/courses

For more information about NAIDOC Week visit https://www.naidoc.org.au/


AJ Williams – Mental Health First Aid  Instructor

My name is AJ Williams. I have been a MHFA Instructor since 2008. MHFA has taken me all over this beautiful country that we now call Australia. These nations make up over 500 different language groups. I am Wiradjuri (NSW) and Wotjobulak (Victoria).

The concept of ‘Country’ is important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. ‘Country’ is where we are from. It is who we are and how we identify. It in itself, is the essence that makes us feel connected, supported and grounded. It ensures that I remain in good health both physically and mentally.

This years’ theme is ‘Heal Country’. It is about making sure that our country is able to spiritually, physically, emotionally, socially and culturally heal. I am a qualified Nurse, Youth Worker and Social Worker. I am a born healer and helper. I am also a Thought Change Agent. I create safe environments where I give people a safe space to think, reflect, listen to others and change how they see and view the world we live in, whether that is through MHFA or through cultural awareness training. People come to workshops thinking one thing – then walking away thinking something different. This is what I do well.

Even after delivering over 560 MHFA courses across this country, I have seen how this course continues to heal people, heal families and heal country. As an Aboriginal man, member of the Stolen Generation and a person who has lived experience with mental illness, it has taken me and my family a long time to heal. In fact we are still healing.

NAIDOC means so much to me. It is a week of celebration. A week where we come together, share culture & ceremony with friends, family & mob, and continue to heal country.

You can connect with AJ Williams on Linkedin here and learn more about his work on his website.

Jodi Sampson – Mental Health First Aid  Instructor

Jodi Sampson is recognised as a proud Gomeroi & Gamilaroi Man from North-West NSW. Jodi was raised in “Two-Worlds” in Moree. Jodi has an entrepreneurial spirit that runs deep. Jodi has 35+ years’ experience engaging and nurturing relationships with Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Communities by providing leadership, Coaching & Mentoring, Education & Training and role models the cultural values of his family and ancestors.

Jodi is a qualified & accredited Aboriginal Mental Health First Aid Instructor with Mental Health First Aid Australia and has facilitated many workshops across Australia (especially in rural, remote & isolated Communities). Jodi is a current survivor of suicide and shares his personal journey of mental health. Jodi’s mental health journey hasn’t been an easy one, especially managing thoughts of suicide, anxiety, depression & alcohol which stems from previous employment where he has suffered torment, heartache and disappointment at the hands of other Aboriginal & non-Aboriginal people as he went about connecting Aboriginal Communities to Policies, Programs and Services to advance his people. Following a 35+ year Public Service career (all levels of Government in NSW & QLD), Jodi has commenced his small business fulltime and is on a journey of giving back which was a pledge he gave to his Elders in Moree.

Jodi’s response to this year’s NAIDOC theme: “Heal Country, Heal our Nation” is for all Australians to firstly, recognise First Nations Australians (Australian Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Peoples) and pay 2-way respect as we aim to have our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island History included in the fabric of the wider “Australian Story”. Jodi believes that in order to heal our Country, we must first heal ourselves! Jodi talks about his ancestors teaching, that more work needs to be done to recognise, protect and maintain our Culture and Heritage as it not only belongs to us, but to all Australians.

Jodi invites ALL Australians to engage with him and other Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Brothers & Sisters to live, work and walk together, address ALL past injustices, hear the truth telling ………..as this will allow us to heal together and be proud together in the spirit of being “an Australian!”

Connect with Jodi Sampson on Linkedin and Instagram. 


Further information

For more information about NAIDOC Week visit https://www.naidoc.org.au/

and to explore our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander MHFA courses visit: https://mhfa.com.au/courses

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