Mental health services need coordination: ATSI health organisations

Aboriginal flag painted on bricks

Queensland’s Aboriginal and Islander community-controlled health organisations have called for greater coordination in the funding and delivery of mental health services.

At the start of Mental Health Week, the sector’s peak body, QAIHC, said today that the particular and unique circumstances faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples requires a unique approach to improving mental illness.

QAIHC CEO, Matt Cooke, says that there are immediate steps that Governments should take to improve the effectiveness of mental health services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples.

“The National Mental Health Commission Review into mental health, released in April, called for Indigenous mental health to be made a national priority with a new ‘Closing the Gap’ mental health target and yet nearly four months later there doesn’t appear to be any progress,” says Cooke.

“We also urgently need for our mental health and alcohol and other drugs services to be under the auspices of the Federal Department of Health rather than being separated into the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet where it currently is.

“This illogical separation makes coordination of health services more difficult; it is an entirely avoidable obstacle to success and the new Turnbull Government must reverse it,” Cooke says.

“The continuing high rates of self-harm, suicide, incarceration and substance misuse among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are indicators that much more needs to be done and we just don’t have the luxury of time; changes are needed right now.”

Cooke also called for greater investment into workforce training to create a new cohort of Aboriginal and Islander mental health workers and counsellors.

“Much more work is needed to open pathways to university degrees into mental health nursing, social work, psychology and psychiatry for Aboriginal and Islander people,” he says.

“There are currently only about 80 Indigenous psychologists in the country and we need about six hundred if want to achieve parity with the population.

“We need trained mental health workers in every one of Queensland’s 24 community-controlled health services to begin tackling the heartache of suicide and self-harm in particular,” he says.

Cooke says that there are many examples of extremely successful community-based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health initiatives in drug rehabilitation, suicide prevention and other mental health related challenges.

“Initiatives such as the QAIHC ‘Lighting the Dark’ Suicide Prevention Program which was delivered across 10 communities in partnership with Titans 4 Tomorrow across Queensland have been well received by community as an effective means of addressing suicide.

“QAIHC is partnering with St Johns to roll out Aboriginal Mental Health First Aid across our community controlled health services; increasing individual awareness of the risk factors and providing them with skills in working with individuals who are experiencing social, emotional wellbeing, mental illness or suicidal ideation.

“These initiatives will save lives,” says Cooke.

He also highlighted the National Empowerment Project currently underway in Kuranda and Cherbourg as another example of a holistic approach using culture and spirituality to empower local people and reduce the terrible burden of mental illness.

“What we truly need from Governments is a better directing of funding and a sensible approach to removing obstacles that stand in the way of community-based solutions,” he says.

“We have the will, the intellect and the determination to address the mental health issues in our communities; what are missing are suitable resources and a trained expert Aboriginal workforce to implement innovative programs which empower our people.

“These are the responsibilities of Governments and we remain hopeful they will take up the challenge to support us.”

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