Improving the mental health response for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples during the pandemic

Telehealth and mental health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

A National COVID-19 Pandemic Issues Paper on Mental Health and Wellbeing for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Peoples has been released, in a multi-organisational collaboration, with contributions from Dr Stewart Sutherland from ANU Medical School.

The key findings from the report have further highlighted the mental health disadvantage and inadequate access to mental health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

It is well established that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are at higher risk for suicide than other groups due to a combination of transgenerational trauma, failure to create culturally safe health services, and continued poor understanding of current issues by non-Indigenous mental health service providers. Therefore, targeted resources are needed.

Currently, mental health funding is not being channelled to support this group during the pandemic and subsequently, the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not being met.

The report has made five (5) recommendations to improve the emotional and mental wellbeing of Indigenous people:

  • A call for direct funding to Indigenous organisations who are aware of the needs of their communities and can make decisions about where the money is best spent.
  • Support for the existing local mental health workforce so they can continue to provide culturally safe and accessible services to the communities in which they operate.
  • Any mental health program must be designed with the input of Indigenous peoples.
  • Telehealth and digital services should be made accessible and affordable for Indigenous communities.
  • There should be a comprehensive evaluation of any changes implemented to measure effectiveness, promote accountability and provide Indigenous data.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have done a great job at keeping the COVID-19 rates low in their communities but there is more to the equation than physical health. Mental health is just as important and this is where we are seeing gaps that need to be urgently addressed,” explained Dr Sutherland.