Murdoch University Professor of Aboriginal Health leads study into peri-natal mental health

Murdoch University’s Professor of Aboriginal Health
Murdoch University’s Professor of Aboriginal Health

THE message Murdoch University's Professor of Aboriginal Health wants to spread is that indigenous women are strong women, who live their culture daily.

Professor Rhonda Marriott has been working with the Roebourne community as part of a study focusing on peri-natal mental health, assessing services available to young Aboriginal women.

But, the team found while there were services available, they weren’t always what was wanted or needed.

‘There are lots of things we want to do but it’s not easy,’ she said.

‘It’s a very complex community and has been very disadvantaged, and has become a fractured community partly due to the fallout from mining companies.

‘But the first key message is a positive one. They are strong women, they are very strong in their culture and they live their culture daily. When you are on their country, you feel it.

‘It’s not all doom and gloom. People think of these communities as dysfunctional and consign them to the too hard basket.

‘There are women in the community who need help, but equally there are women in the community who are strong role models.’

Prof Marriott said foetal alcohol spectrum disorder and shaken baby syndrome were two of the main concerns for health professionals around peri-natal health.

As a consequence of the study, a film called Mothering Our Way was made, featuring Yinjinbarndi and Ngarluma women talking about birthing and women’s business. It will be launched when the study’s final report is made available in April next year.

The film will be used as an educational tool for health professionals to provide a better understanding of different Aboriginal cultures and introduce the different ways of caring for women around the time of birth.

Prof Marriott, who recently received a lifetime achievement award from the Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives, is also leading a study into the needs of Aboriginal women birthing on country.

‘This is a project dear to my heart,’ she said.

‘The topic has only been addressed in relation to birthing on country in rural and remote locations, but women who live in Perth, Nyungar women, are also birthing on their country.

‘Where’s their voice? People think they already have access to services, but it’s about having your culture valued.’

The study will look at how metropolitan services could be modified to make them more culturally sound and to guide professional development and educational programs for midwives.

St John of God Murdoch Hospital is one of the project’s partners.

Prof Marriott said more Aboriginal midwives were needed, but recruitment and retention was challenging.