Dr William Abur, PhD
Dr William is a lecturer in social work at the National Indigenous Knowledges, Education, Research and Innovation (NIKERI) Institute, an associate member of the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University.
A good number of young people and their families are failing their dreams rapidly in the South Sudanese Australian community due to multiple complex issues facing them. One the big concerns is mental health and wellbeing. This is say simple, but mental health is one of the biggest elephants in the room facing young people and parents in the South Sudanese Australian community. As it was right put by great one of the American philosophers -Frederick Douglass in one of his quotes-“it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” It is better to think about mental health and wellbeing services for the South Sudanese Australians earlier than to wait and try to repair a mentally broken individuals. As a result of this thought provoking, I have conducted searching for successful, inspirational programs or models that intentionally improve the mental wellbeing of black young people in non-black majority countries, but only discovered a small number of programs in America. The reason could be due to the language of mental health or mental wellbeing being unpopular for these programs. However, I suspect that there is also a shortage of programs or models like this for black young people in the western countries where black people are minority in population
There are systematic barriers and lack of cultural responsive mental health treatment are impacting in many black community groups in the western countries including the South Sudanese Australian community (Marrast, et al., 2016). Furthermore, South Sudanese Australian community has faced a high level of scrutiny by media, politicians and the general public because of young people actioning negatively due to some difficulties facing them in their lives. As a result of this, there has been an increment in racial profiling of the South Sudanese Australian community in public including school community. This distressed community and affected young people mental health and wellbeing. Young people in South Sudanese Australian community are affected and often remain anxious in public space. For instance, their level of confidence in public space has dropped, level of anxiety has increase as young people dropped out from school in large numbers, level of bullying in public and social media as increased and level of suicidal thoughts has been reported in community by families and their peer groups (Abur, 2018). Unfortunately, mental health and wellbeing is an area which largely neglected in refugee settlement area. Mental health issues are not addressed within the South Sudanese Australian community (Abur & Mphande, 2019). In order to this support young people from the South Sudanese Australian community, mental health and wellbeing of young people and their families need special consideration. This mean that proper treatment of pre-migration trauma and post-migration trauma much be considered as one of the priorities to be addressed. The consequences of not prioritising mental health issues are greater and significantly increasing from time to time with the South Sudanese Australian populations.
Therefore, this paper provides a brief overview of the ways and programs that may effectively support mental health and wellbeing of young people from the South Sudanese Australian community. The paper reviewed the successful programs for young people in colour international and nationally. First, this paper present a list of promising programs that shown the effective ways of supporting young people in colour to address mental health and wellbeing, educational and as well as cultural issues. Some of the useful information for service providers and policy makers have been organised in core principles in order for the service providers to the design and make implementation of wellbeing and mentoring initiatives for young people from the South Sudanese Australian community.
This paper came out from desktop research which is a review of successful mental health and wellbeing programs that intentionally improve the mental wellbeing of black young people in non-black majority countries. There was also a consultation with 19 young people who attended consultation meeting and discussed wellbeing and mental health issues affecting young people from the South Sudanese Australian community. This consultation meeting, there were different themes that emerged from the conversations of young people such as: no mental health or wellbeing services for black young people in Melbourne. There is no place for black young people to go and talk about mental health and wellbeing issues that are bothering them. People are afraid to talk about mental health issues because it is sound stupid. There is no much pride to discuss mental health issues in South Sudanese Australian community because of stigma.
We already know that young people from the South Sudanese Australian are in disadvantaged position and at risk when they experienced mental health related problems. The biggest elephant in the room of young people from the South Sudanese Australian community is mental health problem (Abur & Mphande, 2019). Many of these young people do not have enough skills to cope with stress, body image, school pressures and other serious mental health issues such as depression, anxiety (Abur & Mphande, 2019). There is an evidence in research that suggests many young people do struggle with mental health and wellbeing issues during their development period (Smith, et al., 2014, Sawyer, et al., 2001). There is a high level of depression, anxiety and other prevalent disorders among young people from high income countries including Australia. Almost of one in five of the population is likely to display some signs and symptoms of mental disorders (Gulliver, et al., 2010).
Young people in black community who experienced mental health issues tends to take self-medication with drugs and alcohol in an attempt to solve their problems on their own(Smith, et al., 2014, Sawyer, et al., 2001). This similar trends is developing or has already appeared with young people from South Sudanese Australian community who are struggling with mental health issues are taking self-medication with drugs and alcohols as way of addressing their mental health problems. The mental health problems from these young people in Melbourne come from a wide range of difficult experiences such racial profiling of their community, targeted bullying in school by bullies and racists to the intergenerational trauma which they young people experienced from their parents who witnessed and traumatised by war as well as difficult live experienced in refugee camps (Abur, 2018, Abur & Mphande, 2019).
There is a great need for young people in the South Sudanese Australian community in Melbourne to adopt mental health and wellbeing programs for young people in African America community that have assisted their young people to address mental health and wellbeing issues. Many young people from South Sudanese Australian community who have experienced racial verification and bullying at schools are struggling with mental health issues, and are not able to seek help from either parents or professional service providers because of negative stigma associating with mental health in their community (Abur & Mphande, 2019, Abur, 2018). What need to be done to supporting young people? There is a need of intervention service to young people in the South Sudanese Australian community.
- Peer Mentoring Program: This is a program run under organisation of African communities- uniting the African community under one umbrella in Western Australia. This program shown some positive outcomes in mentoring young people, reconnecting young people with mentors and families (https://oacwa.com.au/ or https://oacwa.com.au/justice-reinvestment-mentor-me-reconnect/)
- African youth agency of Australia: This is program that provides services to young people and their families under the Horn of Africa Relief & Development Agency (HARDA) in NSW. The program recruit volunteers from mainstream Australian community groups to come and support young people from African Australian community groups activities such swimming lessons. (http://v2.harda.org.au/mental-health-project/)
- Bounczn Dancing Program: This program provide the student-centred, holistic and community driven dancing activities for young people. It is a registered not for profit company that provide dancing activities to young people. They are committed to providing unique dance experiences to young people that celebrates cultural diversity, health, well-being and community. Wellbeing and fitness class such as dancing class for girls and boys can assist in building self-esteem, confidence leadership skills (https://www.bounczn.com/#intro) .This program can be adopted for the young people from South Sudanese Australian community to engage in such activities that can wellbeing and fitness for both girls and boys to build self-esteem, confidence leadership skills.
- The OK Program: This program aims at empowering black men and boys to transform their communities. This program has touched the lives of thousands of African-American males from the ages of 12 to 18 in order to reverse the high rates of homicides and incarceration among that population. They have professional team that work collaboratively with young people through mentoring. The mentorship model brings together local police officers, school districts, and the faith-based community with the goal of transforming lives and empowering African-American men and boys to improve their communities.(https://okprogram.org/about#what-we-do)
- The Black Star Project: This program is committed to improve the quality of life in Black and Latino communities in Chicago. It is now extended as a nationwide program in America that work closely with young people to eliminate racial matters and assist young people to achieve their academic outcomes. The mission of the Black Star project is to provide educational services that help pre-school through college students succeed academically and become knowledgeable and productive citizens with the support of their parents, families, schools and communities. (https://www.blackstarproject.org/index.php/about.html)
- Tomorrow’s Black Men Programs: This program aim to support and empower young black males through education, self-determination and community building. TBM runs young people‘s positive youth community based mentoring program that provides a variety of positive educational and cultural activities for at-risk youth. TBM also work closely with parents by providing parental activities as recognition of the role play by parents in community. The encouraged parents and community involvement in supporting and working together to making a positive impact in young people’s lives. (https://www.tomorrowsblackmen.org/ )
- The Mentoring Center: This is a community based program in Oakland, California that provides mentorship to young people in a way which transform their thinking and situations. The mentoring centre program involves a structured curriculum that offers a long-term group mentoring program. Key components of the curriculum focus on character development, cognitive restructuring, spiritual development, life skills training, anger management, and employability skills. The primary audience is youth of colour, who are perceived to be “highly at-risk”. The program’s goal is to reduce the involvement of these youth people in violence-related activities. The Mentoring Center specialised in providing interventions for youth involved in the juvenile justice and criminal justice system, particularly those in correctional settings with continued support after the youth return to the community. (http://www.mentor.org/ or http://mentor.org/#)
- 100 Black Men: This is an international association that sponsors local mentoring initiatives geared at preparing African American boys to be productive adult citizens in society. The program offers a range of mentoring options, including 1-on-1 and group mentoring efforts. Focusing on the holistic development of adolescents, attention is paid to educational success, civic responsibility, educational attainment, career exploration, and leadership development. The 100 Black Men of America, Inc.’s leadership empowerment focus develops leaders throughout the 100 global network that are prepared and equipped to address critical issues facing communities throughout the world.( https://100blackmen.org/)
- Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities in England and Wales: this program look at the impact of issues such as racism and discrimination, and then provide key mental health statistics for specific BAME communities. What work in this program is that young people in black community and other minorities community groups are supported by the organisations by addressing issues of mental health stigma, racism and discrimination, criminal justice system, social and economic inequalities and other factors.(https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/b/black-asian-and-minority-ethnic-bame-communities)
- Black Thrive – A Partnership for Black Wellbeing: Black Thrive program take a holistic approach to addressing the causes of mental ill health in black community in UK. This program assisted people from black community to access to housing, education, employment and so on, can have an impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing. Black thrive closely with Black communities and service providers to reduce the inequality and injustices experienced by Black people in mental health services. (https://www.blackthrive.org.uk/why-black-thrive)
- Get Loud about Mental Health for Black Canadians: this program encourage young people in black community to speak louder about mental health issues in their community. There is misunderstanding in the community about mental health issues and barriers to accessing services leave Black Canadians struggling in silence. (https://www.evas.ca/blog/getloud-about-mental-health-for-black-canadians/).
Principle 1: Creating culturally safe support program for young people and community
Creating program that can assist young people to connect, understand, embrace and appreciate their own culture can reduce stigma associating with stereotyping and racial profiling which affected the wellbeing and confidence of young people from the South Sudanese Australian community. There are useful elements in any culture that can give young person as sense of purpose and meaning in different aspect of life. Culture is defined as knowledge, social activities, and the interpretation of life or worldview with which individuals or groups associate, as well as an understanding of their society (Abur, 2019). There are cultural safe program run by African American community that connect young people to their African cultures. Such program assist young people from black American to understand, connect with their culture, history as black African American and assist to understand their identity and self-esteem. The example of such as program in America for African migrants that want their young people to be connected with their own culture in Africa is Black Youth Can Now Take Free Trips to Africa (https://www.forbes.com/sites/janicegassam/2020/02/22/black-youth-can-now-take-free-trips-to-africa/#25c783cc42fa)
Recommendation: Young people are influenced by culture and environment of where they grow up, live and have connection. Young people at risks of poor behaviours or violence behaviours in school are more likely to benefits from connecting with their own culture heritage (Noguera, 2003). Many young people from the South Sudanese Australian community who are caught between two cultures and that is Australian’s culture and South Sudanese’s culture would benefit from the program that connect them and teach them with their own culture. Accessing cultural and social connections enhances the well-being and health of people through daily contact and support for social issues (Abur, 2019). Looking at some positive activities in their South Sudanese Australian community and considering visiting Africa or South Sudan as part of discovering of their own culture from the African perspectives. This type of program can assist young people to take pride of their identity and cultural heritage as South Sudanese Australians.
The program will address issues of dislocation and loss between cultures. Other benefits of the program for young people include strengthening their understanding of their culture, increase social awareness and responsibility which may lead to commitment to education and better academic achievement, increase knowledge and awareness about empathy and respect for elder people’s wisdom and experiences. This program will also provide hope for parents and fulfil the desired of those parents from South Sudanese Australian community who want their young people to remain connected with cultural heritage. Many parents from South Sudanese Australian community and African Australian community groups are constantly worried and anxious about the future of their teenagers (Abur, 2019). Parents know that parenting teenagers in Australia is difficult and different from other own African way of parenting (Abur, 2019, Lewig, et al., 2010).
Principle 2: School based mentoring for girls and boys
There is great possibility that well designed school based mentoring programs can assist young people from the South Sudanese Australian community to remain committed in school. There is a model in America which is successful in engaging young people and their parents to remain committed in school. This model valued a culture of wellbeing, justice and better education outcomes through a provision of radical hope for future. (https://hcz.org/)
Recommendation: The South Sudanese Australian school based mentoring program must aim at academic and wellbeing outcomes of young people. This can be achieved through preparing and supporting peer leaders or peer educators to establish a supported network of young people to address issues of isolation and build connection where young people can meet and talk about wellbeing issues and academic issues. The program can be run separately to accommodate sensitive issues and cultural expectations where girls can talk about girls, business and boys to talks about boys’ business. This model is not new for many South Sudanese parents and community members as it is widely practice in many remote villages in South Sudan. This is where potential leaders are prepare to be leaders among their peer groups and lead networks. People with experiences and knowledge are often invited and asked to speak to the groups on different topics including leadership, wellbeing, how to be good father and how to be good mother when time comes.
Principle 3: Funds and access to funding
Access to funding to support community initiative programs for young people from South Sudanese Australian is problematic. Despite the empirical evidences from research about difficult issues and need to support young people, the community is still struggling to secure enough funding to deliver relevant activities to young people. Lack of funding and sustainable resources in community is part of the problems in the South Sudanese Australian community. Young people who are supported by their families to access and engage in relevant activities are more likely to break law and orders. They are also at high risk of dropping out from school, engage in crimes and tends to consume drugs and alcohol (Abur, 2019, Jarjoura, 2013). Although, some of the programs mentioned above are promising in assisting young people at high risks such as young people in the South Sudanese Australian community in Melbourne, the success of those programs is depending on the finding available.
Recommendation: Securing funds for some of the initiatives above is very critical in delivering programs for young people. There is a great need of advocating for funding on behalf of young people and their families. Access to funds or funding will assist service providers and community members to provide necessary support services to young people who are at risk of mental health problems and are at risk of breaking law that may push them to jail. Some young people are already in prison from the South Sudanese Australian community because of their involvement in negative and criminal activities. These young people are not connected with their community or families for some reasons (Abur, 2019) Young people who are at high risk of mental health problems and disobeying law and orders their future appears to be more likely in prison than go to university or obtaining better employment (Jarjoura, 2013). Therefore, advocating for funding initiatives is one of the pathways in addressing issues of young people.
Principle 4: Creating opportunity for meaningful mentoring
Although mentoring may not be effectively to some young people, majority of young people who want to acquire some soft skills and leadership skills may somehow benefit a lot from mentorship Meaningful mentoring is not about matching mentors with mentees. It is about guiding, motivation and emotional support which is linked to wellbeing. It is also about creating meaningful relationship between mentor and mentee. A relationship that have an intention of assisting young person with enablers or strategies by engaging young person in a productive activities with clear goals such as becoming a law abiding citizen, connecting with right people to get meaningful job, be in healthy relationship and health environment, caring for yourself and other in your surrounding environment. Research suggests that mentoring effective mentoring has assisted many African America boys who were struggling with difficult issues such as suspension, expulsion and drop out from school (Jarjoura, 2013, Rhodes, 2002). Many young people who encountered with these disproportionately end up in the prisons and some of them growing up without proper connection with parents and their community groups. Many young people in South Sudanese Australian in Melbourne are in similar situations of dropping out from schools, hanging out with wrong crowd, not connecting with their families or parents, struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues (Abur, 2018).
The main question to be addressed in this document is what are the appropriate mental health and wellbeing support programs for black community groups that may be replicated in Melbourne? The following programs appeared to be culturally suitable for black community because they are runs by the black community members.
- Black Thrive – A Partnership for Black Wellbeing: This program look at the issues of black community using a holistic approaches in UK such as mental health issues, injustice, unemployment and other form of inequality issues facing members of black community.(https://www.blackthrive.org.uk/why-black-thrive)
- Get Loud about Mental Health for Black Canadians: This program raises the awareness and encourage black community members in Canada to speak up loud about mental health and wellbeing related issues. (https://www.evas.ca/blog/getloud-about-mental-health-for-black-canadians/). This will work well in Melbourne as awareness need to be raised about mental health and wellbeing issues within the South Sudanese Australian community. Lack of awareness in community and with parents about the danger of mental health problems can be addressed through effective community education to raise awareness about mental health issues including how to spot out the signs and symptoms of mental health problems, and benefits of seeking support service for early intervention. As mental health problem is one of the biggest elephants in the room, parents and community need to acknowledge that it is a problem and start seeking support service early enough before it is too late. Therefore, it is fundamentally importance for community focus awareness to be launched in South Sudanese Australian community to awareness that can assist in reducing stigma of mental health issues. The community mental health invention awareness can assist parents and community members with strategies that can improve level of mental health literacy in the South Sudanese Australian community.
- Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities in England and Wales: this program supported members of black community and other minority group who experienced some difficulties including mental health issues, discrimination and racism. (https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/b/black-asian-and-minority-ethnic-bame-communities). What work well in this program is that young people in black community and other minority community groups are supported by the organisations by addressing issues of mental health stigma, racism and discrimination, criminal justice system, social and economic inequalities and other factors? This could work well with the young people from South Sudanese Australians if there is a program that could listen to them and support them what their mental health and wellbeing issues.
In conclusion, young people in disadvantaged and socioeconomic community groups do need support services that can give them better opportunities for their future while supporting them to go through mental health and other wellbeing issues. Therefore, young people from South Sudanese Australian community are more likely to benefit from mentoring and wellbeing programs similar to the above mentioned models to assist them with mental health and wellbeing related issues. These models have assisted young people in black community by exposing boys and girls who are at high risks to the programs that give them hope and aspirations for their futures. It is critical that mental health and wellbeing issues can be identified early enough and addressed them before it is too late for young person to be assisted.
This paper recommended programs that provide activities to support young people with skills that may assist them to deal with mental health issues and allow young people to develop self-esteem and readiness to follow their educational gaols or dreams. Lack of supporting programs and instability in family can affect young people’s wellbeing, schooling as well as employment opportunity. Engaging young people in the programs that can support their mental health and wellbeing are very important in changing the difficult situation of young people from the South Sudanese Australians in Melbourne. One of the solutions or strategies that need to be considered by the service providers that are or want to work with the South Sudanese Australians in Melbourne, is to empower community and young people to remain resilience in toxic environment of racial vilification. This can be done learning strategies that can assist to manage and cope well in difficult situations. Also learn some strategies that can assist remain focus on positive outcomes. One of the positive outcomes is for young people on education and employment as strategies that may assist them to engage positively.
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