NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Harmful impacts of cannabis use among mob

Image in the feature tile in from the ABC News article Cannabis use and psychosis: what is the link and who is at risk? – 25 April 2018.

Harmful impacts of cannabis use among mob

The Alcohol and Other Drugs Knowledge Centre has published a Review of cannabis use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peopleAuthors of the review note that the health effects of cannabis use may not always be seen as a high priority for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, yet the impact of cannabis use on physical and mental health can have significant consequences. The use of high potency cannabis has increased over the last two decades, with a corresponding increased risk to health. In particular, young people and those who started using cannabis whilst young are at increased risk of experiencing harms to mental health. The increase in harms has been matched by a reduction in the perception that cannabis use is harmful. The use of cannabis with other drugs, especially  tobacco is also concerning and should be an important item on the Aboriginal health agenda.

This latest review says that physical harms to health include effects on the respiratory system, cardiovascular system, an increased risk of cancer, and in-utero effects from maternal use. Harms to mental health include an increased risk of psychotic episodes, depression, anxiety and problems with memory and paying attention. While generalising findings about cannabis use for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is problematic due to limited data, high rates of cannabis use have been identified and are a cause for concern. The review highlights protective factors that reduce harms from cannabis use and suggests future directions for collaborative culturally secure approaches in addressing cannabis related harms in communities.

The review is part of a suite of knowledge exchange products that includes an infographic summary of the review, a video (below) and a key factsheet ensuring the information reaches a time poor workforce in multiple ways.

Culturally tailored suicide prevention training

Even one suicide is one too many. For the family, friends and community left behind, it is a devastating and often unexpected loss. But talking about suicide can be deeply painful and complex. This issue can be compounded in Indigenous communities, where cultural sensitivity and awareness are fundamental to breaking down barriers and providing support. The University of Wollongong’s MIND the GaP initiative, based at Shoalhaven Campus, has partnered with the South Coast Medical Service Aboriginal Corporation (AMS) to develop and provide culturally tailored suicide prevention training to the region’s Aboriginal communities.

Known as Community Linkers, the project aims to reduce suicide by bridging the gap between at-risk community members and professional services. The project is training Indigenous and non-Indigenous people and organisations providing services to Shoalhaven’s Aboriginal communities in how to recognise at-risk behaviour and help those in need to easily and readily access support services.

To view the University of Wollongong Australia article Community Linkers tackle suicide in Shoalhaven’s Indigenous communities in full click here.

Image source: The University of WA website.

Bagot Elder reflects on end of alcohol bans

At 75, Helen Fejo-Frith’s life resembles a series of David versus Goliath battles against rivals, ranging from corporate giants to former prime ministers. She can recall who lives where in Bagot — the urban Darwin Indigenous community she presides over — with her eyes closed, and anyone causing trouble knows not to do it in her sight. But alcohol remains one of her biggest and oldest adversaries. Despite being banned, liquor still finds its way into the grid of streets that make up Bagot, putting neighbours, elders and children in harm’s way.

While alcohol remains banned in Bagot, liquor has begun flowing into other parts of the NT for the first time in at least 15 years, after intervention-era bans ended this month, when federal legislation quietly expired. NT laws have picked up where the intervention left off, except it has given communities the right to choose if they wanted alcohol to return, providing Indigenous leaders with a seat at the policy-making table. Some say prohibition has never worked, and putting policy control back in Indigenous hands will encourage self-determination and healing after a dark, 15-year chapter. Others are bracing for the territory’s sobering rates of alcohol-related harm to rise even further, due to what they say has been a “hasty” transition.

To view the ABC News article After 15 years of prohibition, the Northern Territory’s intervention-era alcohol bans come to an end in full click here.

A related article Indigenous Australians minister to meet NT chief minister over alcohol ban ending published in The Mandarin today can be accessed here.

Helen Fejo-Frith is the president of Bagot community in urban Darwin. Photo: Jesse Thompson, ABC News.

Healing practices critical in mental healthcare

At the recent Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists Congress, psychiatrist Dr Loyola McLean presented an eloquent keynote highlighting the importance of embodying First Nations’ healing practices in mental healthcare

McLean, an expert in trauma-informed care and attachment, spoke to an Aboriginal paradigm where, instead of connecting stars to sketch constellations, it was the spaces between that were joined to form the whole, an “ecological matrix” where we sought coherence and understanding. Describing herself as a woman with a “stolen story”, due to family disconnection from kin and Country as a result of Stolen laws and practices, she is still on a journey to reconnect, McLean reflected at length on the power of relationships to shape and heal, with “distrust and disgust” corrosive to connection in ways that could become pathological.

To view the First Nations’ healing practices critical for cultural safety in mental healthcare article in Dr Amy Coopes and Alison Barrett’s report on the RANZCP 2022 Congress – ‘stronger bridges, safer harbours’ click here.

Phot:o Nicole Avagliano on Pexels. Image source: Croakey Health Media.

Easing the grief of stillbirth

The Albanese Government is providing a package of $6.8 million in targeted funding to help ease the grief of stillbirth for bereaved women and families. Women and families mourning the death of a baby or infant will receive support through funding of $4.2 million to Red Nose Australia’s Hospital to Home program. A further $2.6 million will be for stillbirth education and awareness initiatives focusing on groups at higher risk of stillbirth, including First Nations women.

More than 2,000 women and families are impacted by stillbirth each year. The Government is delivering Australia’s first National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan, which aims to reduce stillbirth rates in Australia by 20% or more by December 2025. Improving holistic bereavement care and community support following stillbirth, and raising awareness and strengthening education, particularly in communities that have a disproportionately high rate of stillbirth, are priorities under the Plan.

To view the Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care, The Hon Ged Kearney MP’s media release Helping to ease the grief of stillbirth in full click here.

Image source: The Hippocratic Post.

Increasing hospital access for First Nations peoples

Many First Nations people who present to a hospital emergency department leave before they’ve even seen a doctor. Even if they are seen and admitted to hospital, First Nations people are 2.5 times more likely than non-First Nations people to discharge themselves early against medical advice, research from Federation University shows. Dr Aziz Rahman, Associate Professor of Public Health and Research Advisor from the Institute of Health and Wellbeing, says changes are needed in hospitals so that First Nations people feel welcome, safe, understood and able to access full medical care.

The work is ongoing, with an extensive report on emergency departments published in 2020, based on research at three hospitals in Elizabeth, SA; Alice Springs, NT; and Nowra, NSW. “In my experience working in public health in different national and international contexts, and coming from a developing country [Bangladesh], I did not expect there would be differences in terms of access and treatments for First Nations people in Australia,” Dr Rahman says. “Yet there is a clear difference in health outcomes for First Nations people, such as a 10-year difference in life expectancy, so that was a big surprise to me. Why should that happen when they are accessing the same facilities?”

To read the Federation University article Making hospitals more accessible for First Nations peoples in full click here.

Image source: The Medical Journal of Australia.

100s of mob denied adequate medical care

A north Queensland community leader says he is aware of hundreds of First Nations people being denied adequate medical care as an inquiry into three deaths in 2019 continues. A coronial inquest which began Monday is examining the deaths of Betty Booth, Shakaya George and Adele Sandy who were alledgedly denied adequate medical care at Doomadgee Hospital in NW Queensland. The three young Indigenous women had severe rheumatic heart disease and died after seeking treatment at the hospital.

In March the ABC’s Four Corners program reported on the circumstances surrounding the deaths and found that Doomadgee Hospital had a track record of failing to follow basic medical procedures and keep up-to-date records of some patients’ medical history. Waanyi, Garawa and Gangalidda lore man Alec Doomadgee said the treatment of the women showed the health system did not care about the wellbeing of First Nations people. “There have been hundreds turned away, and people have died as well,” he said. “Many people have been beaten down by the system and they give up, a lot of our mob walk away from it. “It happens that I have a big mouth and I never give up – for more than two years I have been telling the story. “This is something we need to address and there are a lot of families out there that have not been able to do that.”

To view the National Indigenous Times article Claim ‘hundreds’ of Indigenous people denied proper medical care amid Queensland hospital deaths probe in full click here.

Photo: Louie Eroglu ACS, Four Corners. Image source: ABC News.

Urban-regional divide affects children

Australia’s affluence can be seen in its cities: trendy coffee shops litter pristine streets against a backdrop of high-rise buildings from Melbourne to Perth. There’s data to back it up; Australia has the twentieth highest GDP per capita in the world, ahead of Japan, the UK and Canada, and boasts the fifth highest quality of life. Affluence is often harder to come by in regional and rural areas. Remote communities frequently lack the access to the services and amenities that urban Australians enjoy, and are generally less prosperous than their urban contemporaries.

Healthcare is more difficult to access in rural and remote areas due to challenges associated with geographic spread, low population density, limited infrastructure, and the higher costs of delivering healthcare outside of cities which are not accounted for in funding models. People living outside major cities are also 1.4 times more likely to experience family violence.

Indigenous Australians have a history of being not only left behind, but also forcibly excluded. Indigenous Australians are more likely to live in rural and remote areas, accounting for 32% of remote and very remote communities compared to less than 2% of major city populations. Indigenous communities have lower life expectancies, poorer health outcomes, lower wages, and face greater barriers to education and employment opportunities than non-Indigenous Australians due to limited access to public services and widespread discrimination. This must change.

To read the Pro Bono Australia article Affluent but unequal: how the urban-regional divide is affecting Australian children in full click here.

Photo: Ben Collins. Image source: ABC News.

New process for job advertising

NACCHO have introduced a new system for the advertising of job adverts via the NACCHO website and you can find the sector job listings here.

Click here to go to the NACCHO website where you can complete a form with job vacancy details – it will then be approved for posting and go live on the NACCHO website.

National Pain Week

Chronic pain is arguably Australia, and the world’s, fastest-growing medical condition. 1 in 5 Australians live with chronic pain – including adolescents and children. This includes 1 in 3 people over the age of 65. 1 in 5 GP consultations involve a patient with chronic pain and almost 5% report severe, disabling chronic pain. The prevalence of chronic pain is projected to increase as Australia’s population ages – from around 3.2 million in 2007 to 5 million by 2050.

While there is limited data available on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s experience of chronic pain, lower socio-economic status and restricted access to effective pain management and other medical treatments increases Indigenous communities’ risk of living with chronic painful conditions.

National Pain Week is an annual awareness event coordinated each year by Chronic Pain Australia. For more information you can access the Chronic Pain Australia website here.

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