NACCHO Aboriginal Male Health #OchreDay2017 Conference @KenWyattMP and @jpatto12 raising awareness of issues in Aboriginal men’s health

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men experience a number of additional challenges compared with non-Indigenous youth and have much higher rates of high/very high levels of psychological distress.

The 2017 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework report paints a disconcerting picture of mental health issues among Aboriginal men, highlighting the need for holistic and culturally appropriate programs to tackle the epidemic,”

John Patterson, Executive Officer, Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance of the NT (AMSANT), said Australia is currently in the grips of a suicide epidemic, which disproportionately affects young Aboriginal men :

Pictured below with the Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt and Conference Facilitator Dr Mick Adams

see John’s full speech part 2 below

“ Ochre Day aims to raise awareness of issues in Aboriginal men’s health, celebrate the work being done by Aboriginal medical services on the ground in our communities, and encourage indigenous males to have their health checked and seek support,”

Addressing gaps in male Aboriginal health is a key step in reaching the seven targets set by the Council on Australian Governments (COAG) to close the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians,”

Patrick Johnson, Leadership Project Officer, Aboriginal Medical Service Alliance NT said he hoped the two-day policy summit would assist in identifying gaps in male Aboriginal health care and the development and adoption of a national men’s health strategy

NTGPE Senior Cultural Educator Richard Fejo conducted the Welcome to Country.With Onemobdance group linking arms acknowledging their support of eliminating violence against women.

Pictures Normie Gee

Hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and health leaders from across Australia will be meeting  in Darwin for a two-day policy summit on the 4th and 5th October to raise awareness of the suicide epidemic and a plethora of other issues in Aboriginal male health.

Mental health and suicide prevention will be among the key issues addressed at this year’s Ochre Day Policy Summit, which will hear from a number of prominent policy makers and public health experts.

The 2017 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework report cites the 2015 Youth Survey which found that 18% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people surveyed had high levels of concern about suicide (compared with 11% non-Indigenous), 18% were concerned about discrimination (compared with 10% non-indigenous) and one in five reported bullying and emotional abuse as a concern.

The same survey found that young Indigenous males were more likely to report very low levels of happiness (10%) than Indigenous females (5%) or non-Indigenous youth (1.2%).

“Aboriginal people are six times likely to commit suicide than non-Aboriginal people, with the Kimberley region in Western Australia recording one of the highest suicide rates in the world.

“We are talking about whole generations of young Aboriginal men and women who are born into families where suicide is normalised and where the grief from suicide persists across multiple generations,” said Mr Patterson.

The first Ochre Day was held in Canberra in 2013.

This year’s Ochre Day, will feature a major address from The Hon Ken Wyatt MP, Minister for Aged Care and Indigenous Health, who will present on the five most serious health problems facing Aboriginal men today and what needs to be done to readily address them.

View full Program

final 2017-Ochre-Day-Program

Other presentations at the policy summit include an overview of Aboriginal men’s health, sexual health, intergenerational trauma, family violence, anger management, youth detention, addiction solutions and healing circles.

Mr Johnson said he hoped the two-day policy summit would assist in identifying gaps in male Aboriginal health care and the development and adoption of a national men’s health strategy.

“Addressing gaps in male Aboriginal health is a key step in reaching the seven targets set by the Council on Australian Governments (COAG) to close the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians,” said Mr Johnson.

“Aboriginal men must have the same access to health care as other Australians and in particular, tailored, culturally appropriate programs must be developed to address mental health, social and emotional well being and suicide prevention.

“We need to invest more in grassroots programs delivered by Aboriginal people, for Aboriginal people, if we want to have a fighting chance to turn around the harrowing statistics which have seen too many of our sons, fathers and uncles die young.

“We have made great strides already, however there is much more work to be done before we reach the point where a new generation of young Aboriginal men emerges where issues such as suicide are no longer entrenched and normalised,” said Mr Johnson.

National Ochre Day Opening Remarks – AMSANT CEO, John Paterson

Darwin, 4 October 2017

Firstly, I would like to acknowledge we’re meeting today on Larrakia traditional land and thank Richard and Tony for their welcome.

I would also like to welcome participants to this national Ochre Day event, and to acknowledge dignitaries here with us today

This is an important gathering as it is too seldom that we are able to come together as a group of Aboriginal men to work on how we want to address the health challenges that continue to confront Aboriginal men in Australia today.

NACCHO is to be congratulated for developing Ochre Day as a national opportunity for us to do this.

Over the next two days we will explore our theme “Men’s Health, Our Way. Let’s Own It!” The theme reminds us that we do have to take ownership of our health and, just as importantly, provide leadership in telling government what is needed to bring the health of Aboriginal men up to where it should be.

I don’t need to tell any of you that the state of Aboriginal male health is not good. The gap in life expectancy alone remains far too great. Nationally, while life expectancy for Aboriginal men has increased from just over 67.5 years in 2005-07 to 69.1 years in 2011-12, the gap between Aboriginal men and non-Aboriginal men is still too large at 10.6 years. However, if we look at the gap between Aboriginal men in the Territory and national male life expectancy, the gap is 16.4 years!

It’s important, gathering where we are here in Darwin, in the Northern Territory, that we acknowledge just how significantly worse the health of Aboriginal Territorians is than the health of Aboriginal people nationally. For Aboriginal men in the Territory this translates to a life expectancy that is on average 4 years less than for Aboriginal men nationally.

Overall, the mortality rate for Aboriginal Territorians is 50% higher when compared with Indigenous people interstate, and 85% higher than non-Aboriginal Territorians.

And for Aboriginal men in the Territory, we experience a 10-15% higher mortality than our Aboriginal women.

Clearly, there is a long way to go in closing the health gap for Aboriginal men and achieving the standard of health and wellbeing that we would all like to see.

This raises an important issue. Beyond just the statistics, what does health and wellbeing mean for us as Aboriginal men?

The Aboriginal concept of health is not just an absence of illness. It is not just the physical well-being of an individual. It refers also to the social, emotional, spiritual and cultural well-being of the whole Community. It means each individual being able to achieve their full potential as a human being and contributing to the total well-being of their Community. It is a whole of life view and includes the cyclical concept of life-death-life.

So, when we talk about “Our way” and about “Let’s own it”, we’re talking as much about our spiritual and psychological health as we are about our physical health.

For us to achieve our full potential as human beings, we must deal with the legacies of our own lives, and also the lives of our fathers and grandfathers and the generations before them. Some of these are heavy legacies.

Aboriginal men have been wounded by the impacts since colonisation which devalued our cultures, dispossessed and dislocated our families and communities and introduced diseases.

Our elders lost their roles with authority and status, and young males lost their role models.

This has diminished the status, self-esteem and sense of purpose of Aboriginal males and contributed to alcohol abuse, self-harm and violence.

It has caused trauma to successive generations, and that trauma continues.

The impacts of trauma will be discussed later this morning, but I wanted to raise here one source of impact from recent years that has impacted heavily on Aboriginal men in the Territory – the NT Intervention.

This top-down, punitive attack on Aboriginal communities in the NT, maliciously targeted Aboriginal men as child abusers, as corrupt and devoid of basic humanity. It was used to strip us of our dignity and as an excuse to subject us to coercive controls on our lives and on our communities.

The extent of the damage to communities caused by the Intervention will probably never be fully known, but I do know that every Aboriginal Territorian man in this room will have felt its impact in some way.

As a policy, its failure is perhaps most evident in the billions of dollars spent with so little to show in terms of positive outcomes.

And only in the last couple of years has the tide begun to turn, with governments at both Commonwealth and Territory levels starting to recognise the need to positively re-engage and to work with us. To bring us back into engagement over policy design and decision-making, and hopefully increasingly into delivering our own services to our communities. As we are doing successfully in the Aboriginal community controlled health sector.

Such rethinking by government I’m sure is also mindful of the ongoing failure of recent policy approaches and funding to improve the structural and social factors or the social determinants of health, that underlie poor health outcomes. Housing, education, employment, access to services, unacceptable rates of imprisonment and children in care.

The inescapable fact, as evidenced by the painfully slow progress on Closing the Gap targets, is that a fundamental change in approach must occur. Such change must start with improving support for the positive social determinant enablers: control, empowerment, and the strength of culture and connection with land.

Being healthy builds on strengths and Aboriginal men have many strengths. We are fathers, husbands, brothers and our communities rely on us. We are resilient and we have the opportunity to use that resilience both for the current generation and for young males and the next generations.

It is important that Aboriginal males continue to be active participants in defining our social roles, both within our own communities and in the broader Australian society.

We need to take back responsibility for traditional practices, parenting and spirituality, as these will contribute to better health.

We have to find ways to contribute our knowledge, skills and authority to initiatives and interventions that concern our health.

Events like Ochre Day and putting together Aboriginal Men’s health strategies are one way we can do this.

We will have a significant focus during this Ochre Day conference on issues related to trauma, social and emotional wellbeing and suicide. These are not easy issues to talk about but they are so important to men’s health.  Suicide continues to be a major and avoidable cause of death for Aboriginal men and an issue that we must talk about. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men between 25 and 29 have the highest suicide rates in the entire world, according to a study of youth health released last year.

If anyone is feeling upset or distressed about these conversations, staff from Danila Dilba Health Service are here and you can talk to them about any support you might need. Joseph Knuth is the best person to approach if you need any support at all.

The Conference though will be positive, we will be working on solutions and ideas for the future. We will be taking control!

Today we will hear about men’s health issues and about some of the services that have been developed here in the Northern Territory to bring men into health services in appropriate ways and to empower men to take control of their own health.

We will hear from the top Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal experts in men’s health.

Tomorrow, we will take what we have learned today and start to work towards the future, towards our own solutions and strategies.

We are fortunate to have Dr Mick Adams with us to facilitate discussions towards developing a national Aboriginal men’s health strategy.

This has been a long-held aim in Aboriginal health and has met with considerable difficulty in getting government buy in and commitment.

But we won’t give up, a national strategy is a necessary first step in closing the health gap and building on the strengths of Aboriginal men, families and communities.

I look forward to Dr Adams’ advice and direction on how we might move forward to achieve this.

There will be a lot of opportunity to work together and for all voices to be heard so I encourage everyone to take these opportunities and speak up over the next two days.

Thank you.



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