STRONG ACTION NEEDED ON INDIGENOUS MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES

Labor has today called on Tony Abbott to address the mental health challenges facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people following the release of the National Mental Health Review.

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The much anticipated review, which was handed to the Government in December last year and leaked to the media this week, has revealed that:

  • Significant numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not seeing a counsellor despite reporting the need to do so. 12.2 per cent said that the service was not available or the wait too long, 10.4 per cent had issues with transportation or distance to see the counsellor and 34 per cent reported being too busy due to work or family responsibilities.
  • A variety of factors were contributing to poor mental health outcomes amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In 2012, 27 per cent of the prison population in Australia were Indigenous despite Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults comprising just three per cent of the total population (with a 56 per cent increase between 2000 and 2013). Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are 2.7 times more likely to have high or very high distress levels which can lead to mental health challenges.
  • Suicide rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are twice that of non-Indigenous people and hospitalisation rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders intentionally self-harming have increased by 48.1 per cent between 2004-5 and 2012-13.
  • General population services and programs do not always work within the broader context of the social and emotional wellbeing as understood by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Senator Jan McLucas said that the review painted a dire picture of mental health issues experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“The mental health of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is in urgent need of repair and action is needed from a leader who promised to be the Prime Minister for Indigenous Affairs.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are being incarcerated at far higher rates, are self-harming at far higher rates and committing suicide at far higher rates than non-Indigenous Australians.

“Labor’s historic mental health reform package included support targeted directly towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, with specific initiatives aimed at reducing suicide, improving access to primary mental health care and providing services in areas where it was needed most. 

“The review is clear that the Government must continue to build on these reforms and work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership to make Indigenous mental health a national priority.”

Stephen Jones said that the review’s revelations should be a wake-up call to the Abbott Government.

“The review should be carefully considered and services improved so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a connected and culturally appropriate transition through the mental health system, in particular between primary mental health components and specialist services.

“In addition to this Tony Abbott and his Health Minister, Susan Ley, must reverse the Government’s harsh cuts that are threatening Closing the Gap targets.

“The Government’s Budget of Horrors led to half a billion dollars’ worth of cuts to Closing the Gap programs, including $165 million ripped from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health programs. We can’t improve the mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people if cuts are ripping away the support structures designed to enhance their quality of life.

“Without a plan that deals with the social and emotional well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people everything else falls over.”

Warren Snowdon said that the Government must consider the unique circumstances that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people face.

“There is a clear need and the report shows a real inability to access the help that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people require.

“The Government must recognise that the answer is not cutting funding from services and programs that support the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Mr Snowdon also said one area of particular concern was the lack of mental health support programs specifically designed for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth.

“Evidence based programs geared towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth such as the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance in the Northern Territory, are now at risk under the Abbott Government’s chaotic funding model for Indigenous Affairs.

“This is particularly disastrous in areas like Maningrida which have a large youth population but limited access to youth services. It is time for the Government to get serious about improving mental health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.”

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