I felt very privileged to attend a day of the International Indigenous Research Nurses Summit when I was visiting QSU this week. It was truly inspiring to hear the stories of indigenous nurses leading hugely important research programmes. However, at the same time, many of their findings were sobering in terms of their experiences of racism and the huge impact they were identifying this (unsurprisingly) had on their communities.
I was particularly struck by Ray Lovett and Roxanne Jones’s excellent presentation of the largest ever study of Aboriginal and Torres Trait Islander Wellbeing – ‘Maya Kuwaya’. Designed, led and governed by indigenous people, community will be able to have access to and use their own data. The study is using postal survey methods and aiming to recruit 15,000 participants – it has already got to 10,000. They shared that many people really welcomed the opportunity to tell their stories.
However, these stories were often very traumatic. More than 50% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander respondents across all areas of Australia reported exposure to high levels of racism. Over 20% of people had left healthcare settings without receiving treatment because they had experienced racism.
Maya Kuwaya is also able to fill the gap in evidence regarding the impact of racism on physical and psychological wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Trait Islander people, finding a clear link between discrimination and moderate/high psychological distress.
“The more we are exposed to racism the worse our physical health is….and we feel less control over our lives”.
Ray states this pattern is evident in all their data. These findings have also been reported in the context of Aotearoa, New Zealand, in a large study conducted by a team including our School of Nursing colleague A/Prof Terryann Clark. The Youth2000 study found that cultural connection improves youth mental health for Māori, but ethnic discrimination was associated with poor mental health outcomes.
The impact of racism on all aspects of health and life circumstances is very clear. The challenge now is for those with the power to do so to truly act upon this evidence at a personal, professional and systemic level.