Understanding Indigenous Wellbeing

TristanSchultzArtwork“Indigenous people have a holistic view of health and wellbeing that incorporates the physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, scial and environmental. It does not just focus on the individual, but also on the health and wellbeing of the community.”

Indigenous Heath and Wellbeing
To appreciate the many ways that society can facilitate the healing of Indigenous people, we must understand the Indigenous view of health and wellbeing. It is different to that of western culture.

Indigenous people have a holistic view of health and wellbeing that incorporates the physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, social and environmental. It does not just focus on the individual, but also on the health and wellbeing of the community.

This view, which has been in existence for tens of thousands of years, is far richer than the western concept of mental health, which comes from an illness or clinical perspective.

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‘From Trauma to Transformative Recovery’ by Bill White

Trauma to Transformation ImageAnother wonderful blog from Bill White, recently posted on his excellent website.

Between 1986 and 2003, I served as the evaluator of an innovative approach to the treatment of addicted women with histories of neglect or abuse of their children.

Project SAFE eventually expanded from four pilot sites to more than 20 Illinois communities using a model that integrated addiction treatment, child welfare, mental health, and domestic violence services.  This project garnered considerable professional and public attention, including being profiled within Bill Moyers’ PBS documentary, Moyers on Addiction:  Close to Home.

My subsequent writings on recovery management and recovery-oriented systems of care were profoundly influenced by the more than 15 years I spent interviewing the women served by Project SAFE and the Project SAFE outreach workers, therapists, parenting trainers, and child protection case workers.  This blog offers a few reflections on what was learned within this project about the role of trauma in addiction and addiction recovery.

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‘Healing Trauma: What We Are Doing Wrong… and What We Need To Do To Get It Right’ by Bessel van der Kolk

338059More from Bessel van der Kolk’s wonderful book. If you want to know more about trauma and its healing, this is an essential buy.

‘We are fundamentally social creatures – our brains are wired to foster working and playing together.

Trauma devastates the social-engagement system and interferes with cooperation, nurturing, and the ability to function as a productive member of the clan.

In this book, we have seen how many mental health problems, from drug addiction to self-injurious behavior, start off as attempts to cope with emotions that become unbearable because of a lack of adequate human contact and support.

Yet institutions that deal with traumatized children and adults are all too often bypass the emotional-engagement system that is the foundation of who we are and instead focus narrowly on correcting “faulty thinking” and on suppressing unpleasant emotions and troublesome behaviors.

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Dreambuilding in Napranum

Napranum-Aboriginal-Community-4-450x337Some of you will know that I am also running the Sharing Culture initiative. Sharing Culture aims to help Indigenous people heal from historical trauma and its consequences. These consequences include poor physical health, mental health problems, drug and alcohol addiction, domestic violence, self-harm and suicide.

Here is a blog I put up today which will describe one of my projects:

‘”The Elders taught us that to treat the sick trees you must treat the whole forest – you must create a healing forest. If not, the trees will just keep getting sick again… It means that we must actively heal the community and its institutions at the same time an individual works on his or her own healing from alcohol or drugs or other unwell behaviors.” Don Coyhis, Native American Leader & Founder of the Wellbriety Movement

Society has the knowledge to facilitate Indigenous healing. This knowledge comes from individuals who have overcome great adversity and undergone a healing process, as well as from successful Indigenous healing initiatives. Sadly, however, this knowledge is neither disseminated well, nor implemented enough by current systems of care.

Society must also pay attention to, and implement, findings from scientific research that demonstrate key principles that underlie healing. For example, research has shown that self-determination is the foundation of healing and recovery from adversities like trauma, mental health problems and addiction.

Sadly, however, governments and systems of care still act in a paternalistic and controlling manner towards Indigenous people. They see themselves as the agents of change for Indigenous people, even though evidence shows that this approach does not work. It further disempowers people.

As a result of these problems, society is not helping Indigenous people improve their health and wellbeing to the level it should. This is a human rights issue that needs addressing urgently.

Sharing Culture involves the development of an educational resource that shows how healing occurs at an individual, family and community level. As part of this initiative, we are collaborating with highly respected people who have developed key Indigenous healing initiatives. We intend to create high quality content about these initiatives that will be disseminated to a wide audience via a multi-platform approach, i.e. internet, documentary film, iBooks, newspapers, etc.

We aim to inspire and educate our audience, create advocacy campaigns, and help the people we collaborate with develop their projects further (many receive minimal funding). We need to learn from, and facilitate the work of, people with successful healing initiatives.

Today, I would like to announce the first of our Healing Journey collaborative projects. This project involves the development of an easy-to-access, internet-based educational and advocacy resource based on lived experience that will inspire and educate people about community healing.

This resource will focus on the remarkable transformation – at an economic, social and spiritual level – that has been occurring in the Cape York Indigenous community of Napranum, a transformation catalysed by Annalise Jennings of Dynamic Exchange.

Dreambuilding in Napranum will comprise film, audio, text and animation that highlights: (1) healing stories and principles; (2) the evidence for transformation; (3) community events and culture; (4) personal reflections on what facilitates change, and (5) how to address practical issues when facilitating community change. We will also link to other internet-based content that enhances understanding of community healing.

Dreambuilding in Napranum will show what can be achieved when Indigenous people are empowered, connected and given the opportunity for self-determination, key elements underlying healing.

Our audience will gain important insights into how Indigenous people overcome great adversity. We will celebrate what Napranum has achieved and ensure that their successes are shared with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people around the world.

We are in the very early stages of this project. Annalise and I have been talking for some time about linking up. I recently uploaded ten pages of content about Annalise’s work in Napranum using content that is already available online.

Last week, Annalise visited Napranum and the community agreed to participate in the project. I am planning the filming that Mike and I will do in Napranum on the basis of my interviews with Annalise. However, this project is dependent on us raising funding, so I have a busy period ahead.

Here are two testimonials for the project:

“Napranum people have always known where they wanted to go. They have always had great vision and direction. What is different about what is happening now, is someone is willing to walk alongside them to help make their dreams happen. It is a story that needs to be told. It is a story that needs to be repeated in other places, by other people. A story of people doing things together. It was in Napranum many years ago, a woman said: ‘Sometimes, when we look at the problems, they seem like a large mountain. But we can move that mountain, one rock at a time.’ Napranum and Tjunundi people of old Mapoon can teach us many things.” Professor Judy Atkinson & Dr Carlie Atkinson

“Every now and then something happens that is so indisputable and powerful that its impact and implications cannot be ignored. The transformation of Napranum is one of those somethings. Communicating the Napranum story should be an urgent priority so that many people, at all levels of decision making, can understand its message and become part of the healing solution.” Professor Tim Carey

You can find out more about Annalise’s work with Napranum here. We’ll both be blogging about this project as time moves on.

Merry Xmas… and some words of Native American wisdom

IMG_0142I’m going to take some time off, so this is my last blog until the New Year. I’d therefore like to take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and relaxing Christmas break and all the best for 2015.

I hope you’ve found this website of some value. If you haven’t already done so, you might like to visit my other website, Sharing Culture, which is a part of an initiative focused on Indigenous healing I have developed with filmmaker Michael Liu.

I’d like to end this year with some pearls of wisdom written by Don Coyhis on the basis of what he was told be a Native American Elder in New Mexico:

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Classic Blog: ‘The Four Walls’ by Mark Ragins

rsz_markHere’s some great earlier writing on recovery from Mark Ragins, who set up The Village in California. This is what recovery is about!

‘In 1989, the California State Legislature authorized the funding for three model mental health programs, including the Village Integrated Service Agency in Long Beach, in part to answer the question, “Does anything work?”

We created a radical departure from traditional mental health services basing our entire system on psychosocial rehabilitation principles, quality of life outcomes and community integration. Arguably, we have created the most comprehensive, integrated and effective recovery based mental health program anywhere.

In recent years, encouraged by our success, both our attention and the legislature’s have turned to the further question of “How can our whole system be more like the Village?” Undoubtedly, there are numerous serious beaurocratic, funding, and system design issues relevant to that question, but I would like to focus on the personal issues staff must face.

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Classic Blog – ‘The Four Stages of Recovery’ by Mark Ragins

IMG_3040-220x164Mark Ragins is a leading recovery figure in the mental health field. He was a pioneer in setting up MHA Village, a recovery community based in Los Angeles. His writings are well worth a read.

Here is what Mark has to say about the four stages of recovery in an article entitled The Road to Recovery. What Mark says here is just as relevant to people recovering from addiction.

‘Recovery has four stages: (1) hope, (2) empowerment, (3) self-responsibility and (4) a meaningful role in life.

Hope
During times of despair, everyone needs a sense of hope, a sense that things can and will get better. Without hope, there is nothing to look forward to and no real possibility for positive action.

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‘What Does an 800 lb Gorilla in the Room Say at an ADHD Conference? The Truth…’ by Michael Corrigan

mcorriganHere is a brilliant blog from Michael Corrigan on the Mad in America website. Michael shows one thing we can do to counter drug companies (and their allies) efforts to drug our children with addictive drugs used for ADHD.

This blog is a little different than my normal. I want to tell you about an inspiring ADHD conference I took part in last week and a band of 800 lb. gorillas who gently shared the obvious with adults just wanting the facts when it comes to ADHD.

First, if you didn’t know, October was ADHD awareness month. Yes, according to www.ADHDawarenessmonth.org, a website sponsored by Shire Pharmaceuticals (the philanthropic makers of Adderall and Vyvanse) and supported by a large collection of non-profit groups (e.g., CHADD) conveniently supported by the profits of many other ADHD-focused pharmaceutical companies, October was the month to celebrate awareness of ADHD. October was the month to learn more about the ADHD stimulant drugs so often prescribed.

Move along folks… nothing to see…no conflict of interest here.

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Guest Blog – ‘Solvent abuse: the hidden issue’ by Victoria Leigh

logoI wanted to highlight the great work of Re-Solv who have been working 30 years to tackle solvent abuse and its impact. Here’s a Guest Blog from the team at Re-Solv. Well done all for all your hard work.

‘This month, Re-Solv celebrates 30 years of working to end solvent abuse and support all those whose lives are affected by it.

To most people, solvent abuse means “glue-sniffing”; people think of the 1980s, they remember the 100 or more people that were dying of solvent abuse every year in that decade, and they make the thankful assumption that it’s all a thing of the past.

But it’s not.

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‘A Tuesday With Bob’ by Deron Drumm

ddrummI cannot emphasise enough how important grassroots activism is for creating change in the mental health and addiction fields. A clear example of a successful movement is Mad In America, started by Robert Whitaker after publishing his book of the same name.

Here’s a thoughtful and passionate blog which illustrates just how much this movement means to people on the ground.

‘Robert Whitaker’s books and website have changed my life in profound ways. Nearly two years ago, thanks to the generosity of Dorothy Dundas, I was able to have dinner with Bob and several activists.

I sat next to Bob for two hours and was only able to summon the courage to say the deeply philosophical words, “I liked your book.” It was a long ride home to Connecticut that night with that phrase repeating in my head and the knowledge that I had lost an opportunity to tell someone how they had changed my life.

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‘Listening Across the Stages of Recovery’ by Bill White

ListeningAnother powerful blog from Bill White.

‘Addiction shrinks one’s world to a state of stark self-imprisonment.  As the person-drug relationship devours everything else of value, nothing remains that cannot and will not be sacrificed.

And as the drug then devours the self, what remains are only manipulative masks interchanged so quickly that any sense of “true self” remains as only a faint memory.  This shell, now masquerading as a person, burns its way through the world leaving human wreckage in its wake – all wounded by addiction’s self-centeredness, dishonesty, disloyalty, depravity, and brutality.

Extreme narcissism, self-will run riot in the language of Alcoholics Anonymous, is the essence of addiction regardless of whether one sees this trait as a cause or consequence of addiction.  It is a paradoxical entrapment manifested in self-absorption (self-inflation and exploitation or self-deflation and serial victimization) and deteriorating capacities for self-care. 

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‘Personal Reflections on Recovery Month 2014′ by Bill White

recovery monthThis month marks the 25th year of what has evolved into National Recovery Month.  With an early focus on the slogan “Treatment Works,” the event took on its recovery focus in 1998 just as new and renewed grassroots recovery community organizations (RCOs) were rising across the U.S.

RCO representatives came together at the 2001 Recovery Summit in St Paul, MN to launch the formal organization of a new recovery advocacy movement under the leadership of Faces and Voices of Recovery.

In the intervening years, Recovery Month celebration events have grown beyond what anyone could have predicted.  Local recovery celebration events that once welcomed a few dozen brave participants grew into the hundreds and then into the thousands.

This month, in community after community, recovering people and their families and allies will fill parks and streets as far as the eyes can see – an ocean of lives touched and transformed by recovery.   More than 450 recovery celebration events are scheduled this month in the U.S. and such events will also transpire around the world – from Vancouver to Cape Town, from Tokyo to London. 

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Annalise Jennings and the Australian Aboriginal community of Napranum

Some of you will know that I run Sharing Culture, a website focused on the healing of historical, or generational trauma, amongst indigenous peoples of the world. I also blog regularly on this website.

Indigenous peoples have overcome great adversity arising from colonisation and its associated violence and control, as well as paternalism, racism, poverty and social exclusion. I am greatly saddened by what I see here in Australia and the disregard of the human rights of our First Nations people by government.

At the same time, I marvel at the amazing resilience of indigenous peoples in overcoming such adversity over the generations. As the Hon Pat O’Shane said, “I recognized the things that happened to the thousands of other Aboriginal families like our family, and I marvelled that we weren’t all stark, raving mad.”

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‘Want to reduce mental illness? Address trauma. Want to save the world? Address trauma.’ by Laura K Kerr PhD

Scapegoat‘Different explanations have been given for the increased number of people suffering from mental illness. Some have claimed the increase is the result of ever-expanding diagnostic criteria and syndromes that risk medicalizing normal emotional reactions.

Others argue the increase is the result of the pharmaceutical industry financially courting the medical establishment as well as using advertisements to attract potential users of their medications.

While both these arguments seem correct, they nevertheless fail to address that an increasing number of people regularly experience despair and anguish and are struggling to make a meaningful life, if not keep themselves psychologically, socially, and financially afloat.

I would like to suggest an additional explanation for the increase in mental illness: The upsurge is the result of the collective failure to alleviate conditions that contribute to trauma-related stress.

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‘The Power of Storytelling’ by Lisbeth Riis Cooper

lrcooperLisbeth Riis Cooper is another person whose blogs on Mad in America I really appreciate and value. Here’s one on storytelling.

‘Over the years, I have heard many powerful recovery stories. I’ve also had many opportunities to share our family’s struggle with mental health challenges and our recovery journey.

Each time I share my story, it gets a little easier. I feel a little lighter, a little more hopeful. And I realize how far our family has come, how much we have learned and healed.

Stories are powerful. And so is the process of telling them. Here is what I have observed over my last 10 years of storytelling:

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‘From the Rooms to the Streets’ by Bill White

Unknown-1‘Until recently, recovery from addiction was shrouded in public secrecy in the United States and in most other countries. Addiction has long been viewed as a personally and culturally intractable problem, and pessimism has reigned about the prospects of long-term addiction recovery.

These perceptions have been fed by the unrelenting public visibility of addiction-related problems, but the comparable invisibility of stable, long-term addiction recovery.

Historically, most people in recovery either completely eschewed recovery status (refused the addiction and recovery labels and culturally “passed”) or regularly cloistered themselves in “the rooms” of recovery mutual aid meetings before repeatedly and invisibly re-entering their civilian roles without acknowledgement of their recovery status.

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Recovery and recovery-based care

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead, US cultural anthropologist

2007_0118walpole0118Here’s a little section I wrote for a book I am working on.

1. The Problems
Substance use problems represent a major concern in society today. These problems do not just arise from use of illegal drugs, but also from alcohol, solvents and addictive prescription drugs. They are intimately tied up with, and can be caused by, social, emotional and/or mental health problems. A person’s substance use problems impacts negatively on the wellbeing of family members and other loved ones.

Far too few people are recovering from the problems caused by drugs and alcohol, in large part because of shortcomings in the systems of care that society has developed. Many people circulate in and out of treatment, and much of the treatment system has become disempowering and lacking in hope.

The prejudice and stigma that exists in society towards individuals and families affected by substance use problems is also a strong barrier to recovery.

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‘Recovery for a Higher Purpose’ by Bill White

Recovery for a higher purpose“The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.” Michelangelo

It is one of the most beguiling qualities of the experience of addiction:  it sucks up everything of importance in your life and casts those cherished assets into the remotest reaches of one’s heart, leaving nothing but itself. This all occurs an inch at a time and second by second – increments so small they escape the category of decisions.

It is at the end of such a process that one cluster of fears stands greater than the full awareness of what has been lost.  That is the terror of one’s own emptiness and the gaping nothingness of one’s future.  Those latter breakthroughs of consciousness can fuel unending cycles of oblivion and sickness and take damaged souls to, or beyond, the brink of suicide.

These same fears pose a significant obstacle to recovery initiation.  That’s why the promise of recovery must offer more than the removal of alcohol and other drugs from one’s life.  For the person staring into the abyss, the promise of recovery to a life of meaning and purpose may be far more potent than the promise of recovery from addiction.

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‘Experiencing Recovery – Part 10′ by William L. White: Recovery Paradigm and Addiction Treatment

The last part of Bill White’s 2012 Norman E. Zinberg Memorial Lecture from Harvard. Bill says he is not a teacher of these issues about recovery, but still a student. He encourages us all to be students of this rapidly changing ecology of recovery in the US. Bill also looks at what we need to do in the future in relation to recovery and recovery-based care.

‘Reflections on a Pathologized Adolescence and a Vision For The Future’ by Laura Delano

0-71I’ve been working on a larger writing project for a while now, and am currently focusing on my ninth grade year –  the year I turned fourteen, the year I began to think about suicide, the year I discovered the temporary satisfaction that comes from escaping oneself, and the year I met my first psychiatrist and said goodbye to myself.

For many years, I carried great shame about all that unfolded during that year – about the things I did, the secrets I kept, the harm I caused, the darkness I was so immersed in.

Today as I write, I am full of love for that lost girl I once was, for I see that I was on a universal, archetypal search – for answers to my profound emptiness, to why I yearned to die, to why I felt so utterly convinced that I didn’t fit into the world.

I was searching for self-worth, for peace of mind, for a sense of safety in a world I didn’t understand. I was searching for the kinds of things that all young people search for, only I was never presented an opportunity to realize this.

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