Emeritus Professor Judy Atkinson, a Jiman (Central West Queensland) and Bundjalung (Northern NSW) woman, speaks with Josef Egger about the impacts of mental health illness on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Professor Atkinson has dedicated most of her community and academic life working in the field of violence, trauma, and healing.
The impacts that mental health can have on individuals, families, communities and society are widely known today. For many Aboriginal people living in Australia, mental Illness stems from deep underlying continuous, cumulative trauma, “for our people, trauma is collective, historical – transgenerational”, -states Professor Atkinson.
Professor Atkinson shares that the current model based on the DSM–5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), which gives a diagnostic tool to define and classify mental health disorders, is relevant. However, with its emphasis primarily on the brain, for Indigenous people affected by trauma, we need to adopt a more holistic approach.
Professor Atkinson suggests that we have three other brains in our body, the heart, the gut, and the feet. "Feet were used for dancing, for the whole body that was healing, the gut was used for digesting healthy good food, our heart connected and sorted things out”. When we talk about mental health and mental illness we have to consider this in a cultural sense.
“When all those things are destroyed it's not only a deep cultural trauma, it’s a structural trauma - it then becomes embodied across generations.”