Healing The Past – How We Can End Intergenerational Trauma in Indigenous Youth

Australian Rotary Health has partially funded research in the Bigiswun Kid Project, a longitudinal study that analysed the mental health and wellbeing of Indigenous adolescents living in the remote Fitzroy Valley Aboriginal communities.

In 2018, Professor Elizabeth Elliot from the University of Sydney was awarded an ARH Mental Health Research Grant to lead the Bigiswun Kid Project (‘Bigiswun Kid’ meaning ‘Big One Kid’ or ‘Adolescent’ in the Kimberley Kriol language).

At the request of Aboriginal community leaders, Professor Elliot and her team collaborated with the Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre and Fitzroy Crossing Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisation in 2020-21 to conduct the study. It follows a similar study ten years prior, called the Lililwan Project, now revealing new information on the impacts that high rates of prenatal alcohol exposure, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and early life trauma has had on Indigenous youth.

The Lililwan Project found that 90% of Indigenous youth aged 7-9 experienced early life trauma, with 20% meeting the criteria for fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The Bigiswun Kid Project has followed up with the same cohort of youth, now aged 17-19, finding many self-reporting mental health concerns and or self-harm or suicidal intent. Such findings have expressed grave concern for the lack of psychological support in these Aboriginal communities.

All parents and young people interviewed in the study said they want a locally based, social and emotional wellbeing service to support their communities heal from the intergenerational trauma in consequence from the continual impacts of colonial policies.

“Young people aged 17-19 years living in the remote Fitzroy Valley in Western Australia clearly identified the supports and services they need to thrive in adulthood. They told us they need a social and emotional well-being service; supported work programs; housing; and on-going opportunity to spend time on-country” said Professor Elizabeth Elliott, Paediatrician.

“The Bigiswun Kid Project has highlighted the impact intergenerational trauma is continuing to have on our young people,” said Emily Carter, CEO of Marninwartikura Women’s Resource Centre. “Intergenerational trauma is real, it is not a flippant word, it is our lived reality, and it is impacting our health, mental health, and spiritual health.”

Media contact: Alexander Galati – alexander@arh.org.au
First published 30th  January 2022

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