Worry Boss: How the Royal Flying Doctor Service is helping Indigenous communities talk about anxiety

Thursday, October 13, 2016

How do mental health clinicians talk with a community about anxiety issues when there is no such word, spoken or written, in someone’s language?

Working with Indigenous communities in Central Australia, a Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) mental health team has found a way to get people talking about anxiety through the “Worry Boss” story.

An idea pitched by RFDS Mental Health Clinician Anne Bromhead from the team based in Alice Springs has resulted in this short video animation about anxiety.

Anne said the video, which is produced in English and local traditional languages Arrente and Alyawarr, gives those in the communities where English is not their first language an opportunity to understand the issue of anxiety where there is no word for word translation in their own language.

“The Worry Boss story will assist health staff working in remote communities to establish an understanding and dialogue with their Aboriginal clients who may not have the English vocabulary to describe their mental health experience.”

Fellow RFDS Mental Health Clinician, Jessy Waine, explains that the RFDS has received positive feedback from community members involved in the development of the video, many of whom strongly identified with the main character’s story.

“Using an audiovisual resource delivered in local Aboriginal language assists Aboriginal people to better understand mental health concepts and terminology that have been formulated in a Western context”.

“The video helps Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to understand anxiety and the impact it has on their lives; it also provides strategies for people and their families to manage anxiety.”

Using animation, the story depicts a conversation between an Aboriginal man and an Elder woman, who asks what’s troubling him. The chat leads to her helping him to realise the difference between his every day worries and worries that make him feel angry and unfocused.

“Don’t let the Worry Boss get you,” she tells him. The characters discuss ways they can do this.

The video is a collaborative project of the RFDS, the Federal Department of Health, iTalk Studios in Alice Springs, Akeyulerre Healing Centre, and Arrente and Alyawarr people from Ampilatwatja, Atitjere and Santa Teresa.

iTalk Studios Director, Christopher Brocklebank, said the story focuses on what makes people worry, how that makes them feel and what they can do about it.

“Some of the kinds of worries are ‘tea and sugar worries’ — the sort that take up a lot of room but are not very important; ‘sticky worries’ — when other people’s worries stick to you; and ‘sneaky worries’ — when it is hard to get to sleep at night because they go round in your head.”

RFDS mental health staff talked through the story for the video during a two-day workshop in Alice Springs in early 2016 involving 14 key people from Ampilatwatja, Santa Teresa and the Akeyulerre Health Centre in Central Australia. This was followed by further consultation with the three communities to ensure the story reflected real life situations.

Elder Magdaline Lynch, who was involved in the project, said it was important to find a way to communicate these issues in different ways.

“It was good, because you have to get the message to people who can’t read or write, so they can understand it properly”.

“I reckon a lot of things need to be put in language, to bring things out, put them on the table, so we can sort it out.”

The roles for the video in English and Arrente were voiced by local Elders Stephen Kernan and Magdaline Lynch who also provided the models for the animation. The Alyawarr version was voiced by Lulu Teece and Mark Ross.

There are three versions of the video in English, Alyawarr and Arrente, and it has been made available on YouTube, the iTalk Studios website, the RFDS website, mobile phones and tablets which will give the Worry Boss story broad availability to use in community clinics and centres for anyone to view.

The Worry Boss story will be widely used as part of the Mental Health Services in Remote and Rural Australia (MHSRRA) program delivered by the RFDS in Central Australia. It will also be available to other Social and Emotional Wellbeing, mental health and health programs, and requests have already been made for the video to be made in more traditional languages.

The MHSSRA program provides culturally appropriate in-field treatment of mild to moderate diagnosable mental illness to outback communities where there is limited access to clinical mental health services. Visiting communities on a weekly/ fortnightly basis, the multidisciplinary team of RFDS mental health clinicians delivers clinical services including cognitive behavioural therapy, narrative therapy, brief interventions, counselling, and motivational interviewing. The MHSRRA team also provides mental health capacity building activities and community development. Each year the RFDS MHSRRA team in Alice Springs conducts around 6,000 consultations.

This article appeared in the October 2016 edition of The Health Advocate. To access current and previous editions, click here.