The Australian Psychological Society (APS) says Indigenous mental health must be addressed as a priority to stem the worsening rates of psychological distress, suicide and self-harm that has been highlighted in the Government’s “Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage” (IOD) report, released on 19 November 2014
APS President, Professor Mike Kyrios, says, “While we welcome reported improvements to Indigenous education and life expectancy, we are deeply concerned about increased rates of incarceration and the continuing mental health crisis that exists in Indigenous communities.”
“As well as addressing issues of disadvantage that underpin poor Indigenous mental health, there is a need to ensure Indigenous Australians have equal access to mental health services and that these services are culturally appropriate,” says Prof Kyrios.
The IOD report shows that the proportion of Indigenous adults reporting high or very high levels of psychological distress was three times higher than that of other Australians, increasing from 27 per cent in 2004-05 to 30 per cent in 2012-13.
Hospitalisations for intentional self-harm increased by 48 per cent over this period, and suicide rates were twice the number as those for non-Indigenous Australians.
Leading Aboriginal psychologist Professor Pat Dudgeon FAPS says suicide rates aren’t a surprise. “We are becoming desensitised and accepting of an unacceptable situation,” says Prof Dudgeon. “This report should galvanise our intent to act.”
Prof Dudgeon says the Federal Government needs to better adopt the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Strategy, which was developed in full consultation with Indigenous communities.
“Imposing mainstream programs on Indigenous Australians simply won’t work because of cultural differences that exist. It’s vital to consult with Indigenous leaders to better understand community needs and how they operate,” says Prof Dudgeon. “If people aren’t engaged results will be limited.”
Prof Dudgeon also says there is a need for more community-based mental health services to alleviate Indigenous over-use of hospitals for mental health issues. “Access to culturally appropriate community-based services would allow issues to be addressed earlier, and possibly prevent the onset of more serious mental health conditions,” Prof Dudgeon says.
Prof Kyrios says the APS is striving to contribute to closing the Indigenous wellbeing gap by working with its members to increase cultural competence amoung psychologists, increase the number of Indigenous psychologists and improve training of psychologists in relation to Indigenous issues.
Media Release from Australian Psychological Society, 27th November 2014