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The Productivity Commission says mental health and suicide cost the Australian economy $500 million a day, with Indigenous Australians disproportionately impacted compared to the rest of the country.
Naveen Razik

1 Nov 2019 - 8:41 AM  UPDATED 1 Nov 2019 - 2:30 PM

A draft report from the Australian Government’s Productivity Commission has called for change when it comes to the treatment of mental health and suicide prevention in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The report found mental health and suicide is costing the Australian economy $500 million a day, tallying up to $180 billion each year.

"Mental ill-health has huge impacts on people, communities and our economy but mental health is treated as an add-on to the physical health system,” Productivity Commission Chair, Michael Brennan said.

“This has to change.”

According to the report, Indigenous Australians are three times as likely compared to ordinary Australians to suffer from high levels of psychological distress.

Indigenous Australians were also twice as likely as other Australians to die by suicide with young people most at risk.

The report identifies intergenerational trauma, discrimination, disadvantage and social exclusion as unique risk factors for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.

“Improvements in mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people require improvements in the conditions of daily life as well as actions to promote healing of past traumas and address discrimination,” the report states.

The Productivity Commission has recommended the government develop a new national suicide prevention strategy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people and expand the role of Indigenous organisations in delivering mental health programs.

It cites the success of the Yarrabah community in North Queensland, who came together to determine a strategy to address a suicide crisis in the mid-1990s.

“While we don’t want to move away from mainstream services, we know from research that if marginalised groups are in charge of their own affairs, these programs are much more effective,” UWA Professor Pat Dudgeon told NITV News.

“It’s about self-determination, it’s about reach and geographical access, but it’s also the right thing to do.”

Psychologist and suicide prevention advocate Tracy Westerman told NITV News an expansion in the role of indigenous organisations must not come at the expense of clinical support.  

“Community-led is often misinterpreted as placing sole responsibility upon our most vulnerable communities to fix our most complex of issues in the absence of appropriate support & resources,” she told NITV News.

“Our communities deserve best practice. Solely relying on a ‘community-led’ approach does our mob an injustice that will effectively cost us lives.”

The productivity commission has also recommended State and Territory Governments take urgent steps to deliver healing services to Indigenous Australians incarcerated in correctional facilities and after they are released.

It also recommended closer ties be forged between traditional healers and mainstream public mental health services.

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