The federal government will deliver a package of reforms to shake up the mental health system and improve support for people with mental health concerns, Health Minister Sussan Ley announced Monday.
NITV, Yasmin Noone

8 Oct 2015 - 4:54 PM  UPDATED 9 Oct 2015 - 12:34 PM

However, the minister’s reform announcement titled Coming soon: A new approach for our mental health system failed to mention if any Indigenous-specific measures would be implemented.

This is despite reports from the National Mental Health Commission (NMHC) that suicide rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are around double the rate for non-Indigenous Australians.

“I will announce the Turnbull Government’s plans for mental health reform by the end of the year as we work to build the best system possible for Australian patients,” the minister’s official announcement reads.

Ms Ley told NITV on Wednesday her office could not reveal the details of the package yet but the government would “continue to take the advice and the thoughts of Indigenous and mental health leaders to reduce the appalling rate of Indigenous suicide, particularly Indigenous youth suicide”.

She said she had received “overwhelming” feedback showing that implementing Canberra-centric policies for Indigenous communities was often futile.

“By the time it gets to a remote Indigenous community it doesn't make sense for that community,” Ms Ley said.

“I am absolutely committed to ensuring that local providers are able to deliver local health services that bring about real health outcomes in their community, particularly through our primary health networks.”

Meanwhile, the federal government has commissioned the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Project to look into the effectiveness and efficiency of suicide prevention programmes.

“By the time it gets to a remote Indigenous community it doesn't make sense for that community."

Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion confirmed to NITV on Thursday the group was on track to deliver its report and recommendations to government by the end of the year.

“Addressing mental health issues and reducing suicide rates is a priority for the Commonwealth Government,” said Mr Scullion.

While there is no requirement for the government to act on the report, Mr Scullion said he would “carefully consider the report’s recommendations before responding”.

Professor Helen Christensen, director of Black Dog Institute and mental health academic at UNSW, said it would be best if the government adopted reform that was Indigenous-led in order to curb suicide rates.

“It’s bad practice rather than the wrong thing to do to try and parachute down on top of communities and tell them how to run their business when they know what they are doing,” said Professor Christensen.

“Indigenous health has to be led by Indigenous people.”

Mental health institute pushes for new suicide-prevention measures
A mental health prevention institute is pushing for a new approach to be implemented to prevent suicide in Australia at a summit at Parliament House in Canberra on Monday.

The federal government’s promised health reform follows on from an admission by Ms Ley earlier in the year where she told national media that the government had not done enough to curb Indigenous suicide rates.

Yet, on Monday Ms Ley said that, as both a parent and a politician, she was motivated to create positive change on mental health.

“As a parent it’s heartbreaking to see these prevalent stories of depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidal tendencies amongst our young people, let alone as Health Minister,” Ms Ley said in an official statement.

“…There’s no doubt raising awareness is only half the battle, we need positive outcomes as well, but surveys such as this spur me on to ensure we get this current mental health reform right first time.”

“Indigenous health has to be led by Indigenous people.”

The NMHC says Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are 2.7 times more likely to have high or very high distress levels, compared with non-Indigenous Australians.

Media reports also state that in some remote Aboriginal communities in the Kimberley region of Western Australia the suicide rate is close to 100 times the national average and children as young as 11 are taking their own lives.

Gerry Georgatos, Aboriginal rights campaigner and community consultant of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander suicide prevention evaluation project, told Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) earlier this year that Indigenous suicide was at the level of a humanitarian crisis.

“It’s a moral abomination that we live in when children as young as nine years of age are taking their lives,” he told CAAMA.

“The last year we buried an 11 year old, 12 year old, 13 year old, 14 year old, 15 year old, 16 year old and 17 year old.

“It’s a narrative of human suffering and misery, and I stay up at night after having stared into the eyes of mothers fathers, of grandmothers grandfathers, of siblings and community. And it is a humanitarian crisis.”

“It’s a moral abomination that we live in when children as young as nine years of age are taking their lives."

He said for Australia in general, suicide rates were going down but herein lies a problem: when Indigenous statistics are disaggregated from the total numbers, it shows that suicide rates for Indigenous Australia are going up.

Add to the number of suicides, the number and rates of attempted suicides will prove to be even greater. “It’s a horrific disparity that’s not visible.

“It should be the pressing issue of our time.”

World Mental Health Day, held on Saturday 10 October, marks the end of Mental Health Week, is dedicated to raising awareness about mental health issues around the theme ‘Mental Health begins with me’.

All Australians are encouraged to take part and make a mental health promise to themselves.


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