Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Treatment Practices to Aboriginal Suicide

In contemporary suicidology concerning Amerindians, there is an expressed desire for euphemisms. Shore suggests calling prevention programs ‘evaluation’ programs, being a ‘safer’ term among people who feel stigmatised by the concept of ‘prevention’.‘Fear of stigmatisation’, he argues, ‘has reinforced the avoidance
of research for 20years’. He presents an intelligent discussion about the hostility of Indians to research: ‘in every Navajo hogan, there are grandparents, parents, children, maybe great-grandchildren and an anthropologist.’ Said in jest, it nevertheless conveys a hostility not much different from that found in Aboriginal Australia. Maori claim they have been ‘clip-boarded’ and researched beyond endurance. Shore writes that most health professionals who want to undertake research in ‘Indian country’ encounter these feelings. His point is that if researchers are not prepared to deal with the hostility, they should not be there.

What does not make sense is Shore’s—and Australia’s bureaucracy’s—failure to see that their already euphemistic label, ‘mental health’, is the greatest single creator of hostility in Aboriginal communities.

Mental health makes a great deal of sense to, and has an appeal to, the white middle-class: we live in an age of medicalised neurosis, one in which suffering is unhealthy and happiness is an inalienable human right. To be mentally healthy is to be happy.

To Aborigines, ‘mental health’ produces hostility and avoidance: a people who have suffered every conceivable label hardly need the ultimate categorisation of not being mentally ‘right’. Optimistic as it may seem to expect a dominant Anglo mainstream to relinquish terms they prefer, there is every reason to demand an appropriate use of language and nomenclatures when the services are for Aborigines.

The Maori propensity is for ‘wellness’. It has the merit of not being an emotionally loaded noun. I have no particular term to offer, but have no doubt that the sooner that agencies abandon the present terminology, the more likely are those in need of treatment to avail themselves of clinical and support services.

Key Message:
• Mainstream society may prefer to retain the phrase ‘mental health’ but this terminology is unacceptable to most Aborigines; if the services which come under that rubric wish to make progress in Aboriginal communities, another term, such as the Maori ‘wellness’, will have to be found.

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