Joe Wil­liams awarded

Dubbo Photo News - - Emergency report - By JOHN RYAN

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.” „

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