Issues Magazine

Tackling Depression in Deadly Style

By Julie Foster

A unique team of artists has been promoting self-expression through movement, music and art in Aboriginal communities around Australia.

Getting messages about depression and anxiety to young people is a challenge being met by combining these messages with engaging activities. beyondblue, through its youth arm, Youthbeyondblue, is proactively engaging and informing indigenous communities about depression and anxiety by staging “hip hop” workshops and other events in partnership with communities and health services (see box, p.42).

About Indigenous Hip Hop Projects

Indigenous Hip Hop Projects (IHHP) blends traditional indigenous culture and hip hop music, facilitating workshops that provide performance skills and lead to events with performance, community strengthening, community education and health outcomes. IHHP promotes self-expression, boosting morale and confidence in participants and promoting positive social activities in remote communities.

The group, which is talented in all elements of hip hop and performing arts, has been active for the past 3 years, and last year worked with over 20,000 students from every state and territory in Australia. IHHP works closely with elders, schools, local health services and councils to introduce skills and resources to enable long-term community development.

IHHP Artistic Director Dion Brownfield says he first started working in the community 4 years ago in Yiyilli in Western Australia: “I was choreographing Crocfest and I saw the impact hip hop dance and music had on young people,” he says. “They loved it. They wanted more music and more moves. I saw it as an easy way to engage the kids. Not only was I inspired by their response, but attendance at school went up during the 2 weeks of Crocfest, the kids listened and the principal was amazed! As word about the workshops spread to nearby towns, we began working with other schools and communities.”

The Kempsey Deadly Styles Project

In December 2007, beyondblue and Kempsey Shire Council, in association with Durri Aboriginal Corporation Medical Service, funded the IHHP to conduct a week-long series of workshops in and around Kempsey on the northern coast of NSW. This culminated in a dance competition called Deadly Styles.

Workshops were conducted at schools and local community centres in breakdancing, hip hop and rap. The workshops provided an environment where young people could express themselves, promoting confidence, leadership, teamwork, self-respect and respect for their culture, friends and elders.

Dion Brownfield says the project has positives for the whole community: “A lot of issues for young people grow out of boredom. These workshops give them a chance to get out in front of everyone and be a leader. They achieve an overall sense of happiness and confidence – while the elders get a sense of pride at seeing the young people feeling good about themselves.

“It’s very rewarding to go to a community, work with the young people and leave them with the skills to develop their own events and eventually see themselves – and not us – as role models,” Dion says.

Nine primary and secondary schools, and the local Police Community Youth Club, worked with the project. More than 2000 young people took part in the workshops and 500 attended the “dance off” at the end of the week.

All the IHHP dancers were trained in beyondblue’s key depression-awareness messages of look, listen, talk and seek help together, which were incorporated into the workshops. Local Aboriginal medical service workers were invited to participate and were introduced to the young people during the workshops.

The aim of the Kempsey project was twofold, with the key beyondblue messages being delivered broadly and links to local Aboriginal medical services actively promoted. When young people can meet and recognise their local health workers it improves the young person’s likelihood of accessing health services.

The project was evaluated, with outcomes demonstrating that engaging young people through hip hop culture is appropriate and that linking health messages and service providers within the project facilitates acceptance of the health messages and breaks down barriers to health service access by young people. Engaging young people in a conversation around key facts and actions around depression is daunting, but engaging them in a hip hop dance workshop eases the delivery of the health message.

IHHP Tour 2008

Impressed by the positive outcomes, and keen to offer such an engaging and popular program to more young people, beyondblue is funding IHHP for performances in rural and remote communities across Australia.

Between May and November, IHHP will travel to communities in Victoria, NSW, Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland including Mildura, Shepparton, Kununurra, Oombulgarri, Halls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing, Walgett, Moree, Thursday Island, Maningrida, Darwin, Tiwi Island, Port Augusta, Dubbo, Kempsey, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek.

“Working in community is the most rewarding thing you can do,” Dion says. “You have an impact on the whole community and you have a real sense that you’re giving them skills to build their communities.”