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Rising Spirits Research Project

The Rising Spirits Community Resilience Project was a research project funded by beyondblue but led by AHCSA in partnership with SAHMRI and UniSA, which aimed to document key programs or activities around South Australia that support Aboriginal people during bereavement.

It also gauged the community and health services capacity to address bereavement related grief and loss; and developed community resources raising awareness of the effects of grief and loss on Aboriginal communities and about key programs and activities which help in the healing of grief.

Previous research found that bereavement related grief and loss is at the core of community disruption and is directly associated with such issues as suicide, mental illness, crime and substance misuse.

The AHCSA Rising Spirits Research Project preliminary findings include:

Aboriginal grief is continual and generational and the extent of grief has devastating effects on communities and families.

  • Culture and community underpin the delivery and substance of successful support programs where there is a sense of local Aboriginal ownership and control. They require flexibility and ongoing adaptation. The ACCHS are best placed to develop and deliver this kind of program because of their close connection to communities and their emphasis on holistic care. In non-Aboriginal organisations these programs are fragile and often top-down bureaucratic changes can threaten their survival.
  • Aboriginal people in South Australia are acutely aware of the extent of grief and loss within their communities and believe that various supports for people experiencing bereavement are essential to their wellbeing.
  • Most ACCHOS place a high priority on social and emotional wellbeing support and have comprehensive programs specifically tailored to their local communities. Many of them address bereavement related stress through existing social and emotional wellbeing programs such as through ‘Bringing them Home’ counsellors as well as through men’s, women’s, and youth support groups. Their close connections to community ensure that, where possible, people who are struggling to cope are identified, monitored and gently guided to the relevant support.
  • Apart from the bigger ACCHOs, there is a scarcity of services and programs around South Australia specifically focussed on Aboriginal grief and loss through bereavement.
  • Of the existing programs, very few are funded directly and most are staffed with volunteers or by health services staff working beyond their official lines of duty.
  • Aboriginal men’s, women’s, elders, and youth support groups are considered by some health practitioners to be as important to healing of grief and loss as counselling support. However, many of these groups are inadequately funded, some being funded by financial leftovers of other programs.
  • Many non-Aboriginal service providers, regardless of place of employment, have very little understanding of the extent of grief within the Aboriginal community and little knowledge of the most appropriate ways for addressing it.
  • There are few government mental health programs or services that Aboriginal people feel comfortable about engaging with. Among the few they do feel comfortable with is the CAMHS programs Ngartunna Patpangga, Nanko-Walun Porlar Nomawi, and in APY Lands and, also, the Journey Home and Sister Girl programs in the Cavan Training Centre

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