The National Mental Health Commission’s Review into mental health programmes and services has called for Indigenous mental health to be made a national priority with a new ‘Closing the Gap’ mental health target.
The Review, released in April, also recommends a dedicated Indigenous mental health plan based on the renewed National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Social and Emotional Wellbeing.
“By every measure, Indigenous mental health is significantly worse than that of other Australians. It’s time Indigenous Australians had a dedicated mental health plan to close this gap,” National Mental Health Commissioner, Professor Pat Dudgeon said.
Professor Dudgeon said the plan needed to be culturally appropriate, take account of the unique historical and social determinants of the mental health problems of Indigenous Australians, and recognise the connections between poorer mental health outcomes and the entrenched poverty and discrimination faced by Indigenous Australians.
“Just like for other Australians, mental health problems are intertwined, often in negative cycles, with problems including unemployment, alcohol and drug use, and violence in Indigenous communities.
These issues also contribute to the appallingly high rates of imprisonment among our young men and women. A focus on improving mental health through dedicated planning could be a ‘circuit breaker’ in many of these problem areas,” she said.
Professor Dudgeon said an Indigenous mental health plan would aim to close mental health service gaps by providing specialist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health services, much needed social and emotional wellbeing and mental health teams in Aboriginal Medical Services, and ensuring general population mental health services are accessible and able to work effectively with Indigenous Australians.
These goals would be supported by the training and development of a dedicated Indigenous mental health workforce, and by ensuring general population mental health workers are able to provide a culturally appropriate service.
Professor Dudgeon said that improving Indigenous mental health could also help close the Indigenous suicide gap.
“Suicide among Indigenous Australians is double that of other Australians with youth suicide being up to five times higher and suicide clusters occurring in some communities.
We have known for too long that suicide is an issue in some of our communities. As the Review notes, it’s critical that the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy is implemented, and that we roll out appropriate services so that people can access culturally competent suicide prevention as soon as possible.”
Professor Dudgeon said a key recommendation of the Review was the call for a national target to reduce suicide and suicide attempts by 50 per cent over the next decade supported by the establishment of 12 regions across Australia to trial the foundation of a national whole-of-community approach to suicide prevention.
“The Commission expects that Indigenous suicide would be a significant issue in a high proportion of the chosen regions,” she said.
National Mental Health Commission Chair, Professor Allan Fels said that the Review underscored the need for Australian governments to support and partner with Indigenous mental health leaders and experts to initiate and help implement the systemic changes needed to close the mental health and suicide gaps.
“We believe the Review provides a transformational opportunity to address the individual, social and economic costs of Indigenous mental health problems and suicide by making them national priorities to close the mental health and suicide gaps,” Professor Fels said.