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Children shine through song in new mental health program

Children from a remote Aboriginal community in the Murchison have produced a song about life on the land as part of a revolutionary Youth Focus program to better connect young people with mental health support through art and music.

Students at the Yulga Jinna Remote Community School, 900km north-east of Perth, have been working with Youth Focus staff Delroy Bergsma and Robert Binsiar in recent months to write and produce the upbeat song Yulga Jinna Kid.

The tune reflects on the favourite pastimes of children living in the Aboriginal community, 170km north of Meekatharra, including “eating kangaroo for dinner”, making cake with an emu egg and “swimming in the river, me and my mob”.

Delroy, a Youth Focus clinical outreach manager, said he and Robert had forged strong connections with the children through music. Their desire to share the day-to-day happenings in their community had led to the lyrics of Yulga Jinna Kid.

“We went out to Yulga Jinna hoping to engage with some of the local kids, so I sat down in the middle of the community with my guitar and just started playing,” Delroy said.

“The kids came out of school just as I was singing some pop songs and they came up and started singing along. They said: ‘Let’s sing a song about Yulga Jinna’ so we made up a couple of lyrics and workshopped it from there.”

The new Youth Focus program, which uses the fundamentals of song, art and traditional Aboriginal culture, works to improve the engagement of young people with mental health support services across the Murchison and Goldfields.

“Music is a powerful outlet from a mental health perspective,” Delroy said.

“This song was born out of a willingness by the young people at Yulga Jinna to share their community with us, but it is also an important tool that helps open up the channels of communication.”

Suicide remains the biggest killer of young Australians. Latest data shows that 51 young people aged between 15 and 24 died by suicide in WA in 2017.

In addition, one in four young Australians is dealing with a mental health condition, with 75 per cent of mental illnesses first appearing in people under the age of 25.

“We know that young Indigenous people are five times more likely than non-Indigenous people to take their own lives so we need to start thinking differently about how we start conversations about mental health and wellbeing,” Delroy said.

“If we develop programs together, they will be used and enjoyed by the community, and we’ll be more likely to see some long-term changes.”

Delroy said Robert’s input as the Youth Focus community engagement coordinator was vital to understand the needs of young people, identify those in need of help and to build strong community relationships.

In the past nine months, Youth Focus has engaged with around 100 young people through its art, song and drumbeat programs.

“We engage in the community through art and music, and by pulling up for a yarn if we see the young kids out and about. Once you build trust and a relationship, the kids will reach out and come to see you when they need to,” Robert said.

“Through this engagement, we can start meaningful conversations to help young people and direct them into counselling if they have issues associated with depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidal ideation.”

The Youth Severe program for the Murchison was initially funded by the WA Primary Health Alliance (WAPHA), which provided $345,000 over 18 months.

A new partnership with the Royal Flying Doctor Service WA provides support valued at $206,500 this financial year for Youth Focus to expand outreach services to other nearby towns.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are five times more likely to die by suicide than non-Indigenous children. In 2016, the death rate for Indigenous children was 9.8 deaths per 100,000 people, compared to 1.9 per 100,000 for non-Indigenous young people.

See Yulga Jinna Kid here:

MEDIA CONTACT: Nicole Cox – 0419 941 443, [email protected]