Looking Forward Project
Please note: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this page may contain or link to images, voices or names of deceased people.
On the whole, the mental health systems in Australia do not offer culturally appropriate services for Aboriginal peoples, resulting in negative experiences and poor outcomes. There have been changes at the governmental and organisational policy levels, but this is yet to result in meaningful changes at the service level for many Aboriginal Australians. This can in part be attributed to the lack of understanding of Aboriginal peoples, culture and worldview by mental health practitioners and service providers (Bishop, et al., 2012, p.26).
In 2010, Yuat Nyoongar man Dr Michael Wright commenced a project to begin the process of addressing this disconnect between Nyoongar peoples and mental health services in the South East Metropolitan region of Perth. The project is located on Wadjuk boodja, one of the fourteen regions that cover the lower South West of Western Australia.
The Looking Forward project is based upon four ethical principles that provide the foundations for working with Nyoongar peoples; securing trust, creating relationship, sustaining commitment, and working partnerships (Wright et al., 2013, pp.29-30). Dr Wright and his project team have been working closely with Nyoongar families, community members, and service providers to identify and understand the needs of Nyoongar families living with mental health and drug and alcohol concerns, and factors which make a mental health or drug and alcohol service culturally secure for Nyoongar families. From listening to stories told by Nyoongar people, it is clear that Nyoongar families need non-Aboriginal people to recognise, understand and show respect for Nyoongar cultural practices, knowledge and history.
One of the Elders commented that getting to know wadjellas, thereby involving them in the process of cultural learning, was like breaking down a wall of ignorance and lack of knowledge. “Once that wall came down I was able to do things. When you do not know each other, you do not know what to say. Until you get to know each other then there will always be some obstacles. So this is one of the reasons why we take the time to know each other. When we know each other the road becomes smooth,” he said.
The West Australian newspaper interviewed Uncle Charlie Kickett about the Looking Forward Project during Mental Health Week 2015. The article can be read online via this link.
This video highlights the high rates of youth suicide amongst Aboriginal communities and contains an interview with Dr Michael Wright.
For further information about the project please visit the Looking Forward Project website.