Finding the fit: development of a mental health service for remote Indigenous communities

Finding the fit: development of a mental health service for remote Indigenous communities Conference Paper

10th National Rural Health Conference: Rural Health: the place to be...

  • Author(s): Oriel Murray, Michael Oates, Upasana Papadopolous, Raelene Solomon
  • Published: 2009

Abstract: It is the intention of the authors to discuss the development of the mental health service of the Far North Queensland Rural Division of General Practice within the communities of Mossman Gorge, Wujal Wujal and Hope Vale. The paper firstly explores the organisational context of this service, then presents the experiences of those implementing the changes in two reflective narratives. Finally, recommendations for future policy are also suggested. The FNQRDGP was established in 1993 with the aim of integrating general practitioners more fully into the health system and to advance the health and well being of people living in Far North Queensland. The organisations understanding of the determinants of good health and wellbeing are constantly evolving, informed from various sources such as community feedback, government policy, and best practice from within the disciplines represented within the Division. The Division currently runs a number of programs and incorporates the disciplines of general practice; podiatry; diabetes education; physiotherapy; dietetics and health promotion. Psychology was included in the Division’s services in 2001, reflecting the World Health Organization’s definition of health as a state of total physical, mental and social well being. All programs are informed by the principles of Comprehensive Primary Health Care. The authors—the ‘social and emotional wellbeing team’—consist of four workers from across two of the programs. Both teams consist of a psychologist and an Indigenous Social and Emotional Wellbeing Practitioner. Although the social and emotional wellbeing team is employed to address mental health and clinical outcomes within Cape York indigenous communities, the FNQRDGP is aware of the need to align an understanding of clinical mental health with an Indigenous or Bama understanding of mental health (the term Bama is widely used throughout Cape York to mean Aboriginal person, but in both Kuku Yalanji and Guugu Yimithirr, the word simply means ‘person’ regardless of nationality or race). This paper is about the process of aligning these two understandings and questions the rhetoric implicit in seemingly straightforward concepts such as ‘mental health’, ‘health’, ‘clinical’, ‘illness’ and ‘cure’. Alarmingly, it has been said that Psychology, perhaps more than any other health discipline “has been implicated in the marginalisation, oppression and dispossession of Indigenous Australians, and this continues at the present time since psychology as currently practiced (italics added) is an agent of the dominant culture”. This assertion suggests the need to critically examine discourses of privilege and dominance as a means of combating mechanisms of oppression and racism that may be reproduced in otherwise well intentioned practice. With this in mind, this paper focuses on two narratives based on the critical reflections of two of the team: one from Social and Emotional Wellbeing Practitioner Oriel, a Bama woman with decades of experience as a counsellor and a traditional owner of the Wujal Wujal area; and another from Michael, a non-indigenous male Intern Psychologist working in the mental health field with Bama for the first time. This paper not only provides these thoughts and processes to the audience, it also marks a stage in the development of the wellbeing team towards a greater understanding of each other’s roles and intends to offer suggestions for addressing the impacts of introducing health services into Indigenous communities.

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Suggested Citation
Oriel Murray, Michael Oates, Upasana Papadopolous, Raelene Solomon, 2009, Finding the fit: development of a mental health service for remote Indigenous communities, Conference Paper, viewed 17 August 2022,

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