Joe Williams awarded
LATE last week Dubbo’s Joe Williams was announced as joint winner of the Australian Mental Health Prize in Sydney, an award which was presented by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. He shared the award with Christine Morgan from Lane Cove.
Joe said he was extremely humbled.
“Although we don’t do the work for awards, it’s humbling to be not only nominated, finalists, but to win among the calibre of finalists and stand alongside Christine as winner, I’m pretty stoked,” Mr Williams told Dubbo Photo News.
“It’s important to say that in 2012, the night I attempted to end my life, I genuinely believed life couldn’t get any better. I was at rock bottom, spent. I am living proof that, with some hard work, putting my well-being as top priority, life gets better.
“A huge thank-you to everyone who has supported me, my family, my kids, Courtney, Mum, Dad, my siblings, and huge thank-you to Mel Frearson who continues to keep my work life on track and the amazing work she does from day to day with our organisation,” he said.
Joe Williams is a Wiradjuri, First Nations Aboriginal man born in Cowra and raised in Wagga. He lived a 15-year span as a professional sports person, playing halfback for South Sydney Rabbitohs in the NRL and having stints at two other clubs before switching to professional boxing in 2009, winning two WBF World Junior Welterweight championships and the WBC Asia Continental Title.
Although forging a successful professional sporting career, Joe battled the majority of his life with suicidal ideation and Bi Polar Disorder.
After a suicide attempt in 2012, Joe felt his purpose was to help people who struggle with mental illness. Joe is also an author, having contributed to the book “Transformation: Turning Tragedy Into Triumph”, and his very own autobiography titled “Defying The Enemy Within” – which has been published in eight countries around the world.
Since founding the organisation The Enemy Within in 2014, Joe has delivered wellbeing programs to over 150 communities across Australia, with the aim of alleviating the mental distress of individuals from all pockets of the community.
Joe Williams formed his Foundation after his own realisation that far too many people were falling through the gaps of traditional programs.
“Maybe it’s time to look at the funding structure of what’s been rolled out and implemented in the programs and communities, with a lot of non-indigenous NGOS being funded to run programs in our communities,” Mr Williams said.
“The answer is in community empowerment – conversations with community about what makes us well, not telling people what makes them well, because that doesn’t work.”
Dubbo's Joe Williams has been named joint winner of the Australian Mental Health Prize. He’s pictured at the presentation with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
He said that was evident when he was in Yirrkala in remote Arnhem Land, and invited to speak to the community.
“They didn’t understand what I was talking about, because there’s no concept of mental health in a lot of our remote Aboriginal communities. So when we started to change the conversation to spiritual health, about what makes our spirit hurt, that’s when we started to understand,” Mr Williams said.
“For 100,000 years we had zero suicides in our communities and I get asked all the time, ‘How do you know, you weren’t around a thousand years ago?’
“In more than 500 different language groups, over 2500 thousand different dialects of language, there’s no word that means suicide – there’s nothing to describe it, which tells you it wasn’t there,” he said.
He believes a major cause of suicide in Aboriginal communities stems from colonisation.
“In 1788 our First People had their identity taken, not just what we looked like, but everything of who we are. I think if we look at suicide in a lot of our communities we need to look at the identity of who we are,” Mr Williams said.
“Since colonisation, you fast-forward 231 years, we now have some of the highest suicide rates in the world.
“What I say everywhere I go, and in every school I work, is that what our old people did (previously) worked, what we’re doing now is not working. We look at behaviours in our communities, and we see our behaviours obviously a lot of the time to be negative,” he said.
He’s calling on the nation to reframe the perspective surrounding this issue.
“Where physical health is easy to identify, sometimes we point to negative behaviours and think they are mental health problems, whereas a lot of our problems are stemming from trans-generational
trauma that is deeply embedded within the core of our DNA,” Mr Williams said.
“Our First People today are being born with trauma, trauma that we have no control of – if it’s trauma that’s causing the behaviour, wouldn’t it be best to start treating the root cause.
“We see millions of dollars in programs rolled out in Aboriginal communities that have very little understanding, that act as a Bandaid, keeping our kids occupied,” he said.
Since 2014 Joe Williams has worked in more than 150 communities, on the road more than 300 days a year, and not a single dollar of that work is funded by the government.
“Essentially, I work as a consultant,” Mr Williams said.
“The community calls me when there’s a time of crisis.
“Now, imagine there are 10 of me – imagine if the work I do, and the programming I do in communities, is tenfold.”