Pause on PhD to run an impact study on the Aussies Abandoned by the Aust Govt

Executive Summary:
During the unprecedented pandemic of COVID-19 and subsequent restrictions on travel, the Australian government implemented restrictions, or international arrival caps, on the number of people able to enter the country. This also included a cap on the number of Australian citizens able to return each week. These caps were announced by the National cabinet on 13th July and came into effect on Monday 20th July, thereby limiting arrivals into all Australian states to 4000 people per week. In part, this was in response to the outbreak in Victoria and the closure of Melbourne international airport on the 2nd July. The closure was initially temporary. However, it was extended to 24th October. The announcement of this extension overlapped with the announcement of the 4000-person cap on international arrivals effective 20th July, thus creating an even higher demand for seats on international flights. It was not until September that the National Cabinet raised the caps slightly by 1500 in a phased manner starting 27th September. From the 4000 individuals able to enter, it has been reported that less than 40% of these arrivals were Australian citizens or Permanent Residents. This study aims to explore the impact of these flight caps on Australian citizens and Permanent Residents using a narrative analysis of people’s experiences collected through Focus Group Discussions and Individual interviews. The outcome is anticipated to inform recovery and support options for this cohort, to inform public health and future Government Policy, as well as to provide an avenue for participants to be able to discuss their experiences, to feel connected to others enduring a similar experience, and to assess the impact over a two year time frame.

Eco- Grief: managing life in an uncertain world.


How to deal with anxiety and grief in an uncertain future


The world has never been in such a dire ecological state as it is today. Scientists have called our time, the Anthropocene, as the 6th Mass-extinction event since the beginning of life. Species are going extinct at unprecedented rates due to human-caused activities. On top of the species die -off we have been facing climate change catastrophes. Australia has lost over a billion animals in the bushfires from 2019. Water has become a scarce resource and many people have lost their homes due to flooding and droughts. The environmental imbalance and the ever growing encroachment of humans into wild spaces has made new headlines with the COVID-19 outbreak; a pandemic that brought the world to a stand-still leaving many people in fear of contracting this respiratory disease and many families in financial turmoil. With catastrophic news chasing the next, it is little surprising that many people suffer from severe depression, anxiety and eco-grief. 


Eco-grief Definition:

“The grief reaction stemming from the environmental loss of ecosystem stemming by natural and man-made events” (KrissKevorkian), or “the grief felt in relation to experienced oranticipated ecological losses, including the loss of species, ecosystems, and meaningful landscapes due to acute or chronic environmental change.” (Cunsolo & Ellis). 


Eco-grief has become and more and more recognized psychological issue, especially for people who work in environmental protection, conservation, climate research, and many first responders and rescue teams who witness bushfires, flooding and pandemic outbreaks. It is natural to be overthrown by a sense of hopelessness and apathy when faced with environmental degradation but it is crucial to be able to keep up the fight for the environment. Dr Sandi James and Dr Miriam Kunde have partnered up to develop a study investigating eco-grief in countries where the environmental destruction is visible, such in Bornean Malaysia where many people witness the forest conversion into oil palm concessions or in Vietnam where locals have witnessed the “empty forest syndrome” (the forests exist but poaching has eradicated almost all wildlife). In contrast, we are interested in eco-grief in the Western world, where many have already lost the direct connection to wildlife but are concerned about climate change developments and the potential future for their children. Last we are interested in studying eco-grief and the effect on productivity and magnitude in professions that are dedicated to the protection of biodiversity and the climate. We aim to gain a better understanding how eco-grief is impacting these target groups in order to develop a therapy and treatment plan for sufferers of eco-grief. 


Who we are

The eco-grief research and initiative is founded by :


Sandi James is a registered psychologist from Australia. She worked at Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) until 2017 when she returned to full-time research and clinical practice in addiction treatment in Thailand. Sandi continues to be involved in a number of research projects looking at alcohol harm minimization in Sabah with her graduate research exploring traditional alcohol in Sabah. She is planning to return to Sabah to take up a new academic posting at UMS in 2020 and to work with the development of a world class psychiatric inpatient unit in Hospital UMS, a new teaching hospital currently under construction. Sandi has presented research and case studies at numerous international conferences with many more planned for the future.


Dr Miriam Kunde is a conservation scientist who has first-hand experience with eco-grief after working in species conservation for over 10 years in several different countries and continents. She is well connected to communities and conservation scientists in first, second and third world countries. In her last position, Dr Kunde was the Scientific field officer and carnivore conservation officer for the DanauGirang Field Centre in Borneo, a research centre dedicated to research projects for species conservation. She has experience in a variety of research disciplines (e.g. phylogeography, genetics, forensics, reintroduction biology, spatial ecology, restoration ecology, zoology, environmental psychology, ethology, anthropology). She is currently expanding her research expertise into conservation marketing (and behaviour change) and holds a Master Degree in Wildlife Documentary productions. Dr Kunde is interested in studying eco-grief as well as developing a therapy plan with Dr James. Once this is achieved, Dr Kunde and Dr James would like to provide eco-grief counselling to all different target groups and sufferers and to invite the discussion about eco-grief and how to handle it through publicising it in scientific journals as well as broadcast media. 

First gig as an invited speaker … and 2 weeks until the next chapter of this adventure … people have been so amazing. I’ll do a post specifically dedicated to the awesome people who have helped keep me afloat throughout this last 4 chaotic and scary episode in this series … but for now I have to get back into Aust and survive 4 weeks quarantine on my own … feel free to make contact. I’m up for coffee chats, wine chats, venting chats, anything… I am eternally grateful to everyone who has been there to help prop me up while I find my new centre of gravity 🤞🏻

It is official 😁

ORIGINAL ARTICLEEffects of Alcohol towards Quality of Life in the Indigenous Groups of the West Coast Division, Sabah, MalaysiaAsong Joseph1*, Helen Benedict Lasimbang2, Sandi James3, Chua Bee Seok1 (May 2020)

Webinar- Decolonisation


The Executive Committee of the DEI SIG Presents:Introduction to Decolonization: A 3-Part Webinar Series Part 2: Decolonising Drug Studies: Victorian Aboriginal Women’s

Narratives on Healing, Drug use and Drug recovery. Presented by : Dr. Stefany Brajanovski and Sandi James

Date : Wednesday, June 24, 2020 Time: 7 pm to 8:15 pm (Melbourne- AEST)

To sign up : please click here

I was invited by La Trobe to write about my last couple of months… I’ve missed out some stories but always have to save something for later right? Have a read below about my adventures in the UK.

COVID19 adventures in wonderland

Pandemic lockdown when not at home.

This is the weirdest situation I have been in, ever, and I have been in some weird situations before. Originally, I came to the UK for a conference and a short 10 day visit to Ireland. That was the 8th March. Its now the 28th April and I am still in the UK. The plan was to return to Malaysia where I was going to take up a posting as a Senior Lecturer in the Medical Faculty of a University. So that is on hold for now as I couldn’t get into Malaysia before they closed borders, so here we are. 

Originally, I relocated from Dublin to Belfast to stay with a friend of a friend. My partner was able to get to Thailand and is still there taking care of my dogs. Another layer of complexity to the situation that many people are facing with partners being stuck in another country or location.

Being unemployed now and unable to access any financial assistance other than the financial grant through La Trobe, I am rapidly running out of money. So couch surfing the new norm. But I couldn’t stay there anymore and after 6 weeks I chose to relocate to London to stay with someone I know a little more and who wanted to help. So here I am, now in London waiting to be able to go home to Malaysia.

Belfast was fun for a while. Farmland… cows and horses to chat to, a sheep with a bucket on its head (my friend got upset when I didn’t help it… I’m a city kid… I’m not going near a sheep with a bucket stuck on its head). And George the Beagle who was very helpful. When the cows (Gertrude, Udder Madness, rumproast, sirloin, and bacon) and the horses(just called big horse and little horse) started to run away when I approached, I figured I was really losing my mind and needed to get out. I think they had had enough of my constantchatter to them. I have now decided the proper rural countryside is not conducive to my mental health.

Flying to London was extreme and surreal. I haven’t found words to adequately describe that experience yet. But on arrival to my new home I quickly became aware how much I missed sounds. The sound of a child creaming, people talking in their yards, cars going by. Being with someone I know more is amazing, like actually have a hug, despite how weird that feels right now… I’ve made friends with Alex, a guy who sits at his apartment window. I am in a courtyard kind of thing one house over, but it’s cool. We just talk loudly.

My routine has changed beyond imagination. The writing I am focusing on has also changed dramatically. I have been working on COVID related papers, a mental health survival guide for Malaysian front line and other staff and individuals, as well as the lit review and methods chapters for my research and a bunch of other things. Operating across 4 time zones have proven challenging and sleep is erratic, but I need to stay connected to people so am doing things at weird times. 

It is difficult being so far from everyone I know. I am connecting online with everyone and every platform I can find. Creating zoom meetings to help me and others, attending as many Uni team sessions as I can with the huge time difference, providing some free online counselling for people across the world, and attending Zoom dance parties with my friends from Thailand. So, all in all, despite the significant hurdles and few battles with staying sane, I am doing well. I am happy for anyone to reach out if you need a chat or anything.

Featured HRAF Global Scholar: Sandi James | Human Relations Area Files

HRAF Global Scholar: Sandi James Title: PhD Candidate, Public Health and Social Policy University Affiliation: La Trobe University, Australia and Universiti Malaysia, Sabah Research Topic: Exploring Alcohol use in Sabah, Malaysia: Preliminary …
— Read on

Short piece on therapy for specific groups


Bisexuality continues to be a controversial concept for many. Often bisexuality is dismissed as “just a phase” or that the individual who identifies as bisexual is “testing the water” and “experimenting or lying to themselves and others – that they must be one or the other, that there is no such thing as bisexual.

These beliefs seem to exist across the board – both within the heterosexual world and also within homosexual communities. It is often thought that they are too ashamed or afraid to come out and hide it by identifying as “bi”, at times labelling and attacking them as betraying the community or “copping out”.

Identifying as bi can be challenging. Often it involves coming out twice, once as gay and then as bi. Individuals can find themselves excluded from both the heterosexual and homosexual communities and can be socially and psychologically isolating and painful.

Increasing rates of alcohol, substance abuse and other process addictions can be the result of all these factors. Having to hide and be dishonest about who you are is damaging to our sense of self and personal wellbeing.

As with other sexual orientations it is important to have a space to be honest and learn to manage those difficult emotions and situations without turning to substances or processes. Identification with others alongside individualized programing can be instrumental in initiating the change process and building the life we deserve.

ACT can be an incredibly beneficial tool, using the hexaflex to work with individuals where they are at. Building committed action, identifying values, using acceptance and creating a life that is worthwhile for them can help to create an incredible change for people.

There is little or no research available on working therapeutically with this population. Some research is available related to shame and self-destructive behaviours. Casiello-Robbins, Wilner, Peters, Bentley & Sauer-Zavala (2019) published a paper in the Journal of Contextual Behavioural Science looking at the role of aversive responses to emotions. Other research has been done regarding working with shame using other approached particularly Cognitive Behavioural Therapies (CBT). These approaches can be useful although research into working therapeutically with this distinct population is well overdue.

Cassiello-Robbins, C., Wilner, J. G., Peters, J. R., Bentley, K. H., & Sauer-Zavala, S. (2019). Elucidating the relationships between shame, anger, and self-destructive behaviors: The role of aversive responses to emotions. Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, 12, 7-12.


So life is on pause for all of us… I have found myself stuck in Northern Ireland due to border closures and flight restrictions. I have been working on other projects while I wait to return to Malaysia, particulalry related to maintaining mental health during this crisis and period of isolation and distancing. I’ll post these here as they become finalised…

Stay safe. Stay home. Lets all get through this and support each other as much as possible.

Bornean indigenous knowledge and tradition – a dance between tradition and intoxication.

The Global Alcohol Policy Conference rounds up today. It has been a brilliant conference, over coming difficuties related to the corona virus 10 to deliver an important and vaulable discussion regarding the state of alcohol policy and research in 2020. Much work still to be done. Looking forward to the next 12 months and the adventures to come in progressing my research and getting the indigenous knowledge of the Kadazandusun out into the world.. supporting change in reducing alcohol related harm… and seeing improvement in quality of life in the communities I work for!