NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: World first online mental health screening

feature tile image of ATSI mum & newborn; text 'World-first online digital tool helps facilitate faster and more effective perinatal mental health screening'

The image in the feature tile is from an article Why did nobody tell me how hard it would be? The plight of perinatal mental health published in the InPsych 2022 Vol 44 Summer 2022 available on the Australian Psychological Society website here.

The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is platform we use to showcase the important work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health focusing on the work of NACCHO, NACCHO members and NACCHO affiliates.

We also share a curated selection of news stories that are of likely interest to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, broadly.

World first online mental health screening

Founder and executive director of Centre of Perinatal Excellence (COPE), Australia’s peak body for reducing the impacts of perinatal anxiety and depression, and perinatal mental health specialist, Dr Nicole Highet said the COVID-19 pandemic increased the incidence and severity of perinatal depression and anxiety, and had a dramatic effect on the mental health of new and expectant parents. “Becoming a parent is challenging enough, but now new and expectant parents are experiencing the additional long-lasting mental health effects of living through a global pandemic” Dr Highet said.

COPE has developed a world-first online screening program to support the mental health of new and expectant mums. The iCOPE digital screening tool can be used to identify mums at risk and facilitate faster and more effective mental health screening in the perinatal period.  It enables perinatal mental health screening to be undertaken across all clinical settings, from in-person to remote screening via the patient’s mobile phone. “iCOPE is changing the way perinatal mental health screening is conducted across the country to ensure all mums-to-be have the opportunity to undertake regular mental health screening, in line with the National Perinatal Mental Health Guideline,” Dr Highet said.

“It’s now more important than ever to be using this world-leading technology to implement regular, faster and more efficient perinatal mental health screening to identify those at risk and those experiencing symptoms.” The sooner symptoms are detected, the faster the treatment can begin, which is why it’s so important to spot the signs early. The iCOPE screening tool also includes two perinatal mental health screening tools that have been developed specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples: the Kimberly Mum’s Mood Scale and the Mt Isa Postnatal Depression Scale.

To view the Kyabram Free Press article World first online mental health screening service rolled out in Benalla in full click here.

COPE Centre of Perinatal Excellence logo; iCOPE Digital Screening Platform; image of woman using app on iPhone

Image source: COPE website, iCOPE Digital Screening webpage.

New MBS education webpage

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) President Dr Nicole Higgins describes the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) as overly complex and difficult to interpret. Dr Higgins says RACGP members frequently report it is difficult to keep up with regular changes to item numbers and claiming rules. In late 2021, the RACGP surveyed members to collect feedback on the value of existing Department of Health and Aged Care resources and what topics GPs would like to see covered in future resources. Responses revealed that there is a lack of awareness around existing resources, and these are underutilised by health providers.

The RACGP have now developed a new publicly accessible webpage, available here, which contains links to Medicare and compliance education resources. Resources are grouped together in one central location so general practitioners (GPs) do not have to search across multiple websites to find what they are looking for. Links are grouped under key themes, which are in alphabetical order. We have also included short descriptions of each resource to help GPs find what they need. This new webpage compiles links to resources such as MBS explanatory notes, fact sheets, education guides, eLearning programs, infographics and case studies. It includes links from various sources, including the Department of Health and Aged Care, Professional Services Review, Services Australia and the RACGP.

Dr Higgins said that while there has been extensive discussion about the need for more education on the MBS and the RACGP is working to identify gaps by reviewing existing materials, there is a range of useful resources already available that GPs may not know about. Dr Higgins said the RACGP is encouraging GPs to bookmark this webpage and RACGP staff will continue to add to it as new resources become available.

RACGP logo & ribbon of MBS Medicare compliance - Summary of useful links on website

Helping improve LGBTIQ+ workplace inclusion

The Victorian government is supporting hundreds of service organisations across the state become more inclusive for queer communities. Last week Premier Daniel Andrews and Equality Minister Harriet Shing announced the state government is investing $1.85m for Rainbow Health Australia to deliver inclusion training to service organisations to make sure they are safe and trusted by the LGBTIQ+ community.

Rainbow Health Australia is a trusted organisation located in the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society at La Trobe University, supporting LGBTIQ+ health and wellbeing through research, training and resources. This investment will support up to 400 organisations to undertake Rainbow Health Australia’s training program How2 – helping them improve LGBTIQ+ inclusion in their workplaces in a sustainable way, including by developing and implementing an inclusion plan.

Rainbow Health Australia will also partner with an Aboriginal-led organisation to come up with the best approach for supporting Aboriginal-led organisations as they undertake this work. It will also create networks of organisations that have completed the program, providing a place to share experiences and advice.

To view the Premier of Victoria the Hon. Daniel Andrews’ media release Building LGBTIQ+ inclusion across Victoria article in full click here.

rainbow flag

Image source: La Trobe University website.

Integrated practice models key to tackling elder abuse

Elder abuse is a serious problem in Australia and across the globe, with one in six Australians over 65 years of age experiencing abuse. Elder abuse occurs when a person causes harm or distress to an older person. Elder abuse can be psychological, financial, physical, sexual, or neglect. Adult children and family members (including intimate partners) most commonly perpetrate elder abuse.

Established by Eastern Community Legal Centre (ECLC) and its partners Eastern Health and Oonah Health & Community Services Aboriginal Corporation, the ELSA and ROSE programs were created in 2019 as part of the National Plan to respond to the abuse of older Australians, funded by the Commonwealth Government. ELSA and ROSE provide integrated practice models that combine lawyers and other community service professionals including elder abuse advocates (often social workers) and financial counsellors to provide a wrap-around service for those experiencing elder abuse.

Michael Smith, ECLC CEO says that the Centre is proud of its ongoing work to prevent, intervene early and respond to elder abuse. “The ROSE and ELSA programs demonstrate that collaborative approaches improve access for older people needing assistance and the wrap around service model works to provide the best level of support for victim survivors in the community,” said Smith.

To view the Star Mail article Integrated practice models key to tackling elder abuse in full click here. The below video is one a number of resources included in the Queensland Government’s Together we can stop elder abuse campaign available here.

How Wreck Bay was left asking “who will die next?”

A two-year investigation has revealed devastating sickness and death in an Indigenous community located next to a defence base that used toxic firefighting foam. When Peggy Carter, a resident of the Aboriginal villiage, Wreck Bay, died in 2019 at the age of 39, following a short struggle with a savage cancer, the three children she cared for lost their world.

Residents of Wreck Bay, on the edge of Jervis Bay’s southern peninsula, 200 kms south of Sydney, know more about grief than most. They say sickness and death cast an ever-present pall over their community. An assault of heart attacks, kidney disease, cancer after cancer. Aunty Jean, 90, said she was one of the few locals who had survived to see old age. “There’s no old men and no old women in Wreck Bay,” she said. “There used to be.” Locals have despaired in their search for answers. What was going wrong in Wreck Bay? Was it hereditary? Bad luck? Something more sinister?

The penny dropped when the Department of Defence disclosed that toxic chemicals in its firefighting foam – known as “forever chemicals” or PFAS – had been seeping into the community’s waterways, food supply and sacred sites for at least three decades. Paradise Poisoned, a two-year investigation by this masthead in conjunction with Stan, iKandy Films and Shark Island Foundation, has delved into the immense loss of life in the community of 400 people and the devastation wrought on their ancient cultural practices by the toxic chemicals. A politician, a doctor and a water board employee all sounded the alarm about a potential cancer cluster in the village, which has recorded some of the worst rates of premature death in Australia.

To view The Sydney Morning Herald article Paradise Poisoned: How the idyllic town of Wreck Bay was left asking ‘Who’s going to die next?’ in full click here.

Wreck Bay (NSW) resident Aunty Jean Carter sitting of rocks at beach

Resident Aunty Jean Carter is amongst those speaking out about fears of a cancer cluster in the Aboriginal community of Wreck Bay. Photo: Rhett Wyman. Image source: The Sydney Morning Herald.

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Key Date – National Palliative Care Week 2023

National Palliative Care Week (NPCW) runs from Sunday 21 to Saturday 27 May 2023 and aims to put ‘Matters of Life and Death’ front and centre in Australia’s consciousness. Camilla Rowland, CEO at Palliative Care Australia (PCA) says, “We understand that death and dying is a difficult subject to talk about and engage with, but this year we have some powerful voices joining the campaign to inspire and start important conversations. The ‘people at the heart of quality palliative care’ – our workforce and volunteers, have opened their hearts to share the life lessons they learn everyday as they provide care and support to people and families living with a life limiting illness.”

NPCW and the stories we’ll share will open the door on the full scope and impact of palliative care and the quality of life it delivers. I hope it provides a moment of reflection for all Australians to think about and plan for the last chapter of life,” Ms Rowland says.  

Film screenings and a host of other events will make for a busy NPCW around the country. A full list of events as well as a range tools to help grow awareness of palliative care can be found on the PCA’s National Palliative Care Week 2023 – ‘Matters of Life and Death’ webpage here.

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