NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Better access to Country key to mental health

hand of ATSI child resting on rock; text 'Access to Country is KEY to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's mental health'

The image in the feature tile is from an opinion piece by Aileen Moreton-Robinson “Our story is in the land”: Why the Indigenous sense of belonging unsettles white Australia published on the ABC Religion & Ethics webpage on 9 November 2020.

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.

Better access to Country key to mental health

Better access to traditional lands was a major focus at NSW’s Health’s annual Aboriginal mental health and wellbeing forum. More than 160 mental health professionals journeyed to the Far West NSW city of Broken Hill to share resources, knowledge and celebrate each other’s achievements. Local Aboriginal mental health clinical leader Desley McKellar said having people on the ground and going on Country was critical to the summit’s success. “We can get so lost in presentations we can forget the cultural side of this work,” she said. “Usually, it’s a two-day sit together in a room, but this time we spent a day doing a cultural walk at Mutawintj.”

The theme of the forum this year was “tune in to country”. The focus was on the importance of access to traditional lands to the mental health of Indigenous people. Ms McKellar said many cultural practices were innately good for mental health. “When life becomes overwhelming I try to go back home, because I know those times on country is what’s needed to try and get back on track,” she said. “I always go to the river, I put my feet in the water, I visit Elders at the cemetery.”

Ms McKellar also pointed out that when the land was struggling so were the people living on it. “It’s like the Baaka (Darling river) when it ran dry,” she said. “It’s like your spirit becomes sick because it was such a huge part of our lives growing up.” Ms McKellar said there was a slow growing recognition in the mental health field of the role of country and culture. “I think there’s room for improvement, but we’re stepping in the right direction,” she said. Broken Hill is the most remote location the forum has been hosted in its 21 years of existence. Ms McKellar said it was useful to be able to demonstrate the impact of access to Country at this year’s forum.

To view the ABC News article Better access to country key to improving Indigenous mental health, forum told in full click here.

Barkindji dancers performed for mental health professionals at Mutawintji National Park

The Barkindji dancers performed for mental health professionals at Mutawintji National Park. Photo: Mutawintji Heritage Tours. Image source: ABC News.

Program brings Inverell a step closer to CTG

Inverell is another step closer to closing the gap with the launch of Bandaar Walaaybaa Community Hub Aboriginal Corporation’s newest program. Endorsed by NACCHO, the Trusted Indigenous Facilitators Program (TIFP) aims to decrease barriers and increase opportunities through the aged care and disability sectors. “There is a gap in delivering our own workforce team, there is a shortage of workforce team, there is a shortage of our Elders in our community who are not receiving their services and full packages, and this is where we come in,” said Carley Weatherall, Founder and CEO of the Bandaar Walaaybaa Community Hub Aboriginal Corporation. “It allows us to deliver services for aged care and disability sector, where there is a gap or limitation.”

In the next decade, the population of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People aged 50 and over is expected to double, while many have no access to suitable aged care services to meet their needs. There are many barriers preventing their access to these services, such as difficulty navigating the system, lack of service providers, lack of appropriate culture care and the experience of racism, to name a few. Through the TIFP Elders and older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders people will have assistance to navigate and access the services they need.

Training and support will be delivered on the ground through the local team’s newly appointed Aged Car Coordinator and Aged Care Community Connector in Inverell, but extending its reach to Tingha, Ashford and Bingara. With five already registered, the company is looking to encourage more people to access these beneficial services. “The program is to reduce the barriers where our mob is not getting services,” Ms Weatherall said. “It is implementing other holistic programs, not just around the one person and not just mental health, we will be covering other avenues too, during the contract.” This state-wide initiative will add to the local teams already growing profile.

To view The New England Times article New program in Inverell works towards Closing the Gap in full click here.

Careley Wetherall - founder & CEO Bandaar Walaaybaa Community Hub Aboriginal Corporation, standing in front of sign 'Bungun Disability Services'

Carley Weatherall, Founder and CEO of the Bandaar Walaaybaa Community Hub Aboriginal Corporation. Image source: The New England Times.

Health Minister visits Coonamble ACCHO

Members of the Coonamble Aboriginal Health Service (CAHS) had the opportunity for their voices to be heard last Wednesday 17 May 2023 following a surprise visit from the new NSW Minister for Health and Regional Health, Ryan Park. The visit had been orchestrated by Barwon member, Roy Butler who has been playing a key role in immersing the new Labor cabinet in what matters out in Western NSW. “I welcome any visit to the electorate by a minister,” said Mr Butler. “Seeing things first hand can only help better inform any decision made by the government far away in Macquarie Street.”

The visit consisted of talking with staff about what issues they see within Coonamble and why they do what they do. In reflecting on his visit to Coonamble, Minister Park found the work and dedication of the rural healthcare staff to be the highlight. “It was great to visit the amazing staff at CAHS,” said Minister Park. “What stood out to me most today was how passionate the staff were. The quality of the service dispensed is an indication of the trust and relationships established between clinical staff and the local community.”

CAHS Executive Assistant to the CEO, Beau Ewers (far right in the photo below), says it was a great opportunity to show the minister some of the work they have been doing, “It was great, we had the chance to show off some of the positive things we do but also some of the challenges we face, like doctor shortages. We put forward that we’re pushing to get a new building as well.” Beau made the point that politicians make the trip out for media exposure, however, he felt as though Minister Park genuinely wanted to engage with the team at CAHS. “He seemed genuinely interested in our struggles, they were there for 45 minutes, and engaged with the staff members and were really looking for ways they could help us.”

The above was extracted from the story Minister for Health visits Coonamble written by Liam Mulhall and published in the Coonamble Times yesterday, 24 May 2023.

4 Coonamble Aboriginal Health Service staff with NSW Minsiter for Health, Ryan Park (left) & NSW State Member for Barwon, Roy Butler (middle) on Wednesday 17 May at the CAHS clinic

Coonamble Aboriginal Health Service (CAHS) staff got a surprise visit from NSW Minister for Health, Ryan Park (left) and NSW State Member for Barwon, Roy Butler (middle) on Wednesday 17 May 2023. Image source: Coonamble Times.

Partnerships aim to improve health hearing

Over the past six months Hearing Australia has worked with the Orange Aboriginal Medical Service (OAMS), the Coonamble Aboriginal Health Service (CAHS) and the Katherine West Health Board (KWHB) to reshape hearing service delivery. A pivotal milestone was achieved this month with the signing of four-year Shared Hearing Services Partnership Agreements with OAMS and CAHS. Under these partnerships, Hearing Australia will work with the local health services to improve the impact of hearing services within their communities while building the capability of local health staff.

Jamie Newman, CEO of OAMS, says the focus of the Shared Hearing Services Partnership is on working together to deliver the care First Nations people want and need. “We’re in a period of change and need to lead that change if we’re going to see better health outcomes for our mob,” Jamie says. “Our people need consistent healthcare, and through this partnership and our ongoing relationship with Hearing Australia, we have a great opportunity to work closely together to improve access to hearing health that will benefit our people today and future generations.”

Chloe Thompson, OAMS’ Aboriginal Health Practitioner Lead, is strongly supportive of the new approach: “We both have the same goal in mind and that’s to improve ear and hearing health for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. At present, there are 19 socio-economic Close the Gap targets for our people. Ear and hearing health is absolutely at the core of those.” Chloe knows first-hand the importance of the service. An audiologist confirmed her 6-year old son had moderate hearing loss. “My son now has normal hearing, and because of the support he received early, developmentally he at least has a chance of catching up to his peers. Regardless of whether you think your child is having hearing trouble or not, it’s important to get their hearing checked regularly.”

To view The National Tribune article Hearing Australia announces game-changing new partnerships designed to help close First Nations hearing gap in full click here.

young ATSI boy having a hearing test

Image source: Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia website.

Health concerns for mob amid Voice debate

Health Minister, Mark Butler, says he fears the Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum could follow path of 2017 marriage equality plebiscite which saw LGBTQ+ people become targets for vilification. The government and mental health groups are concerned First Nations Australians could experience similar levels of abuse during the referendum as LGBTQ+ Australians during the marriage equality postal vote, with a mental health organisation saying the campaign “will only divide people”.

The federal government has committed an extra $10m to support the mental health of First Nations Australians during the referendum period, and mental health organisations say they are bracing for increased reports of racism and psychological distress. “These things do have an impact on levels of mental distress on parts of the community that are subject to an Australian vote” Butler said. “First Nations people will be the subject of a vigorous national debate. And unfortunately, at the edges, that debate sometimes becomes deeply hurtful, deeply personal.”

The eSafety commission told a Senate hearing in May it had already seen an uptick in racial vilification of Indigenous people related to the referendum – and expected that to increase. The mental health sector said organisations were already receiving calls and reports from Indigenous clients raising concerns about the referendum, including some who were anxious about rhetoric from opponents of the voice, and the potential ramifications of the referendum failing.

To view The Guardian article Concerns for mental health of Indigenous Australians amid reported uptick in abuse as voice debate progresses in full click here. You can also view a related article Some reflections for the health sector on the media and racism published yesterday, 24 May 2023, by Croakey Health Media here.

Aboriginal and Australian flags flying, blue sky in background

The eSafety commission said it had seen an uptick in racial vilification of Indigenous people related to the referendum – and expected it to increase. Photo: Lukas Coch, AAP. Image source: The Guardian.


Sector Jobs

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Key Date – National Palliative Care Week 2023

During National Palliative Care Week 2023 (21–27 May) NACCHO is sharing a range of information and resources specifically developed for for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and professional workers.

When Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are diagnosed with a life-limiting illness, or are approaching the end of their life, they should be able to access quality palliative and supportive care that is consistent with their wishes, when and where they need it, no matter where they live. Importantly, this care must be culturally safe and responsive, incorporating the social, emotional, and cultural well-being of the person, as well as their family and the community. To that end, Palliative Care Australia (PCA) has developed resources to assist the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, their communities, and health professionals working within communities to ensure approaches and practises are culturally safe and respectful.

For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples talking about ‘death or dying’ can be an uncomfortable experience. Culturally, discussing this topic can be perceived as tempting it and viewing images of a person who has died or using their name in conversation can impact that person’s journey. In recognition of this, warnings are commonly added to protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples from unnecessary stress. It is not uncommon to refer to ‘death and dying’ as ‘sorry business, sad business, finishing up, final days, final footsteps/final footprints, journey, pathway or going back home or to the dreaming.’ Similarly, the term ’palliative care’ is not easily translated in the many and diverse languages spoken in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

For more information and resources (including the video below) you can access the Palliative Care Australia’s webpage Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Palliative Care Resources here.

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