NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Quit smoking program reaching into community

feature tile of TAC stop smoking program coordinator Jay McDonald; text 'ACCHO program draws on cultural connections to support mob reduce or quit smoking'

The image in the feature tile is of Jay McDonald, the coordinator of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre stop smoking program, makara patapa, coordinator. The image appeared in an ABC News article First Nations quit smoking program reaching into Aboriginal community to help people break the habit published yesterday, Sunday 30 July 2023.

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.

Quit smoking program reaching into community

Cigarettes were a constant in Tamara Style’s life for a long time. “I’ve been smoking for many years. [I started as a] young teenager, about 13 or 14, stopped while I was pregnant and then, as soon as I had my baby, taken it back up again,” she said. “It wasn’t until my daughter fell pregnant and because she lived in the same house, it was more to support her because she needed to give up.” Through the process, Ms Styles had help and support from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC) via regular check-in phone calls and encouragement. “They were really supportive,” she said. It has now been more than two years since her last cigarette.

The TAC’s stop smoking program, makara patapa, draws on cultural connections to help support Aboriginal community members reduce their smoking or quit completely. The program coordinator, Jay McDonald, works around the state. “I travel to each region doing pop-up sessions, home visits and educational work in the quit-smoking space and how to use the nicotine replacement products and how to use them together in combination therapy, and just trying to give people the right tools when they’re ready to quit, to make a quit attempt,” he said.

Data from the Australian Burden of Disease Study showed that tobacco use was responsible for 20% of the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The latest National Tobacco Strategy prioritised expanding and strengthening partnerships to prevent and reduce tobacco use among First Nations people.

To view the ABC News article First Nations quit smoking program reaching into Aboriginal community to help people break the habit in full click here.

Tamara Styles, park, river in background

Tamara Styles began smoking as a teen but it has now been more than two years since her last cigarette. Photo: Kate Nickels. Image source: ABC News.

Mob must be at centre of LGBTQIA+ policy

During Sydney World Pride the federal government committed to a 10 Year National Action Plan for the Health and Wellbeing of LGBTIQA+ people. This included A$26m in health research. In the announcement, the minister for health and aged care, Mark Butler, said: “While many LGBTIQA+ people live happy and healthy lives, others continue to experience discrimination, stigma, isolation, harassment and violence – all of which leads to poorer health and mental health.” A recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)  report showed this cohort is disproportionately impacted by discrimination and disadvantage. The combined impacts of colonialism, racism, homophobia and transphobia result in poorer health and mental health for this group.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are chronically over-researched. Yet there is insufficient data about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQIA+ people and mental health. The report found racism, discrimination and violence (including anticipation and fear of violence), social and cultural exclusion, criminalisation, incarceration, and exposure to grief and suicide all heighten the risk of suicide for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQIA+ people.

Both Indigenous people and LGBTQIA+ people experience poorer health outcomes and higher rates of health-impacting behaviours. These can arise from minority stress, social exclusion, discrimination and trauma. On top of this, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQIA+ people navigate the impacts of colonialism. The report also found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTQIA+-led research, policy, and services are urgently needed to improve mental health and health outcomes for this group.

To view the Daily Bulletin article Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must be at the centre, not the margins, of LGBTQIA+ plans and policies in full click here.

map of Australia with Aboriginal flag & rainbow flag in background

Image source: NIFVS Melbourne.

$10m to boost digital inclusion

The Federal government has announced a $10 million boost to address digital inclusion for Indigenous communities. The new strategy promises many benefits, however increased access to the cyber world also increases the risk of online dangers, especially with regard to vulnerable individuals and communities. Increasing the risk of exposure to online racism is a very real danger for First Nations adults and children, with experts warning of the negative impact this has on mental health.

Prior to the referendum, Aboriginal people were reportedly exposed to one incident of racism online per day and experts have advised that this is significantly higher than pre-social media times, where a person might have experienced an account of racism on one occasion per week. High profile members of the community have declared an increase of online racism, as debate around the referendum begins to intensify. The Office of the eSafety Commissioner have advised of a small but noticeable rise in adult cyber abuse complaints from First Nations people in the first quarter of 2023, with incidents expected to increase as we near the referendum.

Acutely aware of the situation unfolding, the eSafety Commissioner Julie Inman Grant stated “eSafety welcomes any initiative that aims to increase the online participation, digital literacy and digital inclusion for First Nations people. But if we do not create safer and less toxic spaces for First Nations people, we are also relegating them to less digital inclusion. Our reporting schemes deal with serious intent to harm because we know that targeted, racialised online abuse is also designed to silence voices.”

To view the National Indigenous Times article Federal government funds push to boost “digital inclusion” for Indigenous communities in full click here.

NIAA app on iPhone text 'First Nations Digital Inclusion Plan' & computer screen

Image source: National Indigenous Times.

Suicide rate linked to health system shortcomings

Data showsIndigenous children and teenagers are taking their own lives at a rate three times higher than non-Indigenous youth. According to the Suicide in Queensland Annual Report 2022, by the Australian Institute for Suicide Research and Prevention (AISRAP), Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth aged under 20 accounted for 15.8% of all suspected suicides by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in 2021, compared to 4.9% for non-Indigenous youth who were the same age.

Dr Mark Wenitong, who holds a number of portfolios including co-chair of the Queensland Health Aboriginal and Torres Strait Clinical Network and advising commissioner on National Mental Health Commission, shed light on the prevalence of mental health problems in First Nations communities as everything from “mild issues” right through to suicidality or psychosis. “Both those ends of the spectrum occur in our communities and the biggest background noise telling us something’s wrong is the suicide rates,” he said.

“We do have very high suicide rates in our community, particularly exaggerated in younger people, we’re talking very young – ten year olds – in places like the Kimberley.” The impact on very young people was a serious worry, he said, due to their inability to actively seek help. Some part of it, in his opinion, was a fallout of colonisation, resulting in fragmented identity and a lack of meaningful connection to modern day ideals and expectations. But what was more concerning to him were the inadequacies in the health system when it came to following up after an attempt of suicide.

The above has been extracted from an article Dr Mark Wenitong talks about the high incidence of suicide among Indigenous youth and how it can be addressed published in The Cairns Post earlier today. A related ABC News article Family’s grief throws spotlight on an Indigenous ‘suicide crisis’ in WA’s Great Southern region is available in full here.

Dr Mark Wenitong

Dr Mark Wenitong. Photo: Brendan Radke. Image source: The Cairns Post.

The Voice – an NT doctor’s perspective

Professor Anna Ralph, the Deputy Director of Research at Menzies School of Health Research at the Royal Darwin Hospital in the NT  has spoken  about her experiences with Indigenous wellbeing and whether a Voice to Parliament would help at a national level. Professor Ralph is an infectious diseases physician who conducts regular clinics and ward rounds, as well as outreach clinics to remote communities. At the Royal Darwin Hospital, 60-90% of patients are First Nations people, with 59% speaking an Indigenous language as their primary language. Professor Ralph says that there are more than 20 unique languages spoken by patients attending the hospital.

“The NT has the nation’s highest rates of self-discharge from hospital. Patients are not having a good experience of care,” said Professor Ralph. “The data shows that as interpreter use improved, self-discharge rates went down. People are getting better communication; they’re going to stay in hospital to get the treatment they need,” said Professor Ralph. “Patients’ experience of care was utterly transformed by having access to an interpreter. People who were on renal dialysis, for example, stopped skipping dialysis sessions because they now understand of the importance of it,” said Professor Ralph.

“Having a Voice to Parliament – and having a Yes vote at the referendum – would be a way to help the national psyche and a step towards reconciliation,” said Professor Ralph. “It would help to address those power dynamic issues in health care. The more that First Nations peoples are empowered in health care, the better off health is going to be,” said Professor Ralph.

To view the InSight+ article Voice to Parliament: a NT doctor’s perspective in full click here.

Online Voice lies and misinformation

The Indigenous Voice to parliament is being threatened by suspicious social media accounts and deepfake content spreading lies about constitutional recognition, a leading misinformation expert has warned. As Voice advocates escalate campaign activities around the country, including online, they are facing a barrage of incorrect and malicious claims about the proposed body’s powers, and the false claim that taxpayers will have to pay royalties and rates to its members.

Ed Coper, director of communications agency Populares, said his research showed sentiment on social media has No voices outweighing Yes voices by as much as five to one. Many Twitter accounts sharing anti-Voice content have been opened very recently and show little other content or activity. These factors are red flags for disinformation experts, and commonly indicate the accounts are inauthentic and set up using fake identities. Their express purpose can be a gaming of social media algorithms in favour of conspiracies and arguments for the No case.

Suspicious activity being tracked on Facebook could be linked to so-called “bot nets”, which are networks of fake accounts creating and sharing misinformation about the referendum question. Some anti-Voice posts have what experts consider an implausibly high number of shares among Facebook users, with many copying and sharing the same misinformation. Mr Coper said the tactics are being imported from the US, including from followers of the online conspiracy theory QAnon.

To view the Financial Review article How online disinformation is hijacking the Voice in full click here.

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Image source: The Sydney Morning Herald.

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