Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage Report - Opinion
Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2014 Report
Opinion piece by DR JOSEPHINE GWYNN PhD; M.Cog.Sc; B.App.Sc (O.T) Post Doctoral Research Fellow, Centre for Rural and Remote Mental Health
There is a disturbing and significant decline in outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people’s mental health described in the Productivity Commissions report on Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage, released yesterday. Thirty percent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults report high or very high levels of psychological distress, the suicide death rate (most prevalent among young men) is twice that for non-Indigenous Australians, and hospitalisations for intentional self-harm has increased by almost 50% over the past 8 years whilst stable for other Australians. Equally disturbing is the increase in imprisonment rates with that for men increasing 39% since 2000 and for women escalating by 74%. There is no quick fix to these indicators of such deep distress.
These staggering figures reflect multiple risk factors among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Such factors include high burden of poor health, low income levels and the ongoing intergenerational impacts of colonisation – family separations, loss of land and culture, social inequity and racism. Two other Strategic areas for action by COAG ‘Governance, Leadership and Culture’ and ‘Safe and supportive communities’ also performed poorly.
When Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples feel they and their culture are valued by the wider community, when their participation in decision making is genuinely heard, when their languages are treasured and access to traditional lands and waters is supported – then some headway in reducing psychological distress may be made. Addressing these factors is essential to the attainment of better health by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, however much more needs to be done.
The CRRMH calls for urgent action which adopts a national approach: one which fully engages Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and harnesses their many strengths. Such an approach must be funded for much more than the life of a government. An effective response will take time and that is surely something this nation of opportunity can give its First Peoples.