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You are a counselor in a local community health centre. A member of the local Aboriginal community has approached you because she is worried about her 17-year-old son who has been feeling 'winyarn' (sad) for a long time. Over the past month she has noticed a marked change in her son's behaviour. She says he has been 'flying off the handle' over minor frustrations and become aggressive towards her when she has tried to ask him 'what's wrong?' She has contacted you now because he has begun talking about killing himself over the past few days.
Answer the following questions:
Research indicates that suicide was a rare occurrence amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians in pre-colonial times; however, it has become increasingly prevalent for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, since the late 1970s (Silburn et al., 2010). The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2007) reports suicide as the sixth leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, with approximately 3.7 per cent of all deaths for these populations due to suicide.
How would you go about engaging with this family?
Research suggests that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are not only less likely than non-Indigenous young people to engage with mental health professionals or services, they are also likely to engage at a more chronic level and for shorter durations of time (Vicary & Andrews, 2001; Westerman, 2010). Reasons for this include the use of culturally inappropriate processes by professionals when engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, their families and their communities (Hunter, 2007; Westerman, 2003).
What would you need to consider when assessing his level of risk?
Hunter and colleagues (2006) propose that suicidal behaviour among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is the product of a complex set of risk factors that may be interrelated and cumulative in effect. Silburn and associates (2010) suggest that there are two types of risk factors:
Whilst acknowledging that risk factors identified in mainstream literature have some relevance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Westerman (2003) states that there are social and environmental risk factors that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people uniquely. The findings of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (2002) and the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Survey (2004-05) identified the following risk factors, as having a significant impact on the social and emotional well being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:
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The increased suicide rate among the aboriginal youth is an indication of 'youth crying for help'. The indigenous youth is not open to understanding 'what is more to life' and they have closed doors to a 'therapy culture'. We all live in a 'therapy culture'. If parents can't help, then help should be taken from a professional psychotherapist. (Altman, 2008).
There is more to learn and appreciate about the culture of humanity and the way it has developed over the years. Hence, rather than blindly believing in culture, we are better off knowing more about it. Firstly, one should not try to define a culture because it will never define us and secondly, one should not limit their existence by living within the boundaries of a culture. (American Psychiatric Association, 2000)