NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Voice will help close gap in health outcomes

Aboriginal flag with APH flag pole in the background; text '“A ‘Yes’ vote will help find better, more effective, practical ways to close the yawning gap in health outcomes” Minister for Health and Aged Care - Mark Butler'

The image in the feature tile is of Australian Parliament House seen through an Aboriginal flag as it appears on the SBS NITV Radio – News 11/08/2023 webpage. Photo: Lukas Coch, AAP image.

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.

Voice will help close gap in health outcomes

According to Australian Minister for Health and Aged Care, Mark Butler “A good doctor listens carefully to their patients to make sure their diagnosis is thorough and makes a positive difference to their healthcare. A Voice to Parliament (VtP) is simply that: a chance to listen to the voices of Indigenous Australians about better ways to make a positive difference to their lives. The Voice will be a committee of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who offer advice to the Parliament on issues that particularly affect them. With the best of intentions and substantial investment from both sides of the Parliament, the current approach simply isn’t working.”

Dr Simone Raye, President of the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA) says the Voice offers “huge potential to close the gap in unacceptable health disparities”. Dr Raye says the Voice is the much-needed step to give Indigenous people a role in shaping policies that directly impact their future. The Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) also back the VtP. Professor Steve Robinson, President of the AMA, believes the Voice has the potential to deliver extraordinary outcomes for Indigenous Australians.

Dr Nicole Higgins, President of the RACGP, says the Voice will lead to better health outcomes and is a key step to closing the gap in health equality, “There is no doubt listening to an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander VtP will give us a clearer insight into how to better spend the taxpayer money that goes into First Nations health – getting better outcomes and better value for money. I am confident that a VtP and to the Health Minister will help find better, more effective, practical ways to close the gap and allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to live longer, healthier, happier lives. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to make a real difference. And we know it will work because, when you listen to people about the issues that affect them, you get better results.”

To view the RACGP newsGP article Health Minister: How Voice will make a difference in full click here.

Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler addressing press

Federal Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler says the referendum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to recognise the place of First Nations people in Australia and improve lives. Photo: AAP. Image source: RACGP newsGP.

Voice an opportunity to address health inequality

An Indigenous public health expert says the Voice to Parliament (VtP) offers the opportunity to address the health inequality that sees Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people die up to nine years younger than other Australians. Dr Summer May Finlay is a senior lecturer in Indigenous health at the University of Wollongong and a Yorta Yorta woman who lives on Dharawal country in Wollongong, with a history working for a range of organisations, including those in the Aboriginal community-controlled health sector.

The latest Closing the Gap report from the Productivity Commission, released in July, shows only 4 of the 17 targets are on track to being met.  Indigenous men have a life expectancy 8.6 years shorter than non-Indigenous men, while the gap for women is 7.8 years.

Dr Finlay said the Closing the Gap strategy could have achieved more had it been designed with the input of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from the beginning. But she believes the Voice offers an opportunity to address some of these failings.

To read the Illawarra Mercury article Voice will boost Indigenous Health outcomes: Public Health expert in full click here.

Dr Summer May Finlay

Dr Summer May Finlay. Photo: Robert Peet. Image source: Illawarra Mercury.

Referendum taking a toll on mob wellbeing

If you need to talk to someone, call 13YARN on 13 92 76 (24 hours/7 days) to talk with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Crisis Support worker. For mental health support, see your local ACCHO, AMS, GP, or Social and Emotional Wellbeing service. See here for more information and links.

In the lead up to the referendum the National Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing Research has flagged concern for the wellbeing for First Nations people. Regardless of the outcome, they said the decision will have significant impact on community members and now would be a good time to start talking about wellbeing and check in with each other. The research centre resides at the Australian National University (ANU) and was established in 2022, to contribute toward improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing.

Dr Raymond Lovett, a Wongaibon man, Associate Professor Katie Thurber, are working together to establish what worries and concerns First Nations persons have with regard to mental health and wellbeing surrounding the referendum and have developed a range of fact sheets and tools that have been dispersed to Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to assist with providing support. The team have reported that along with the additional efforts of responding to non-indigenous questions, instances of encounters with racism are ramping up and in some instances there is divide within families and communities, all of which can trigger a range of mental health concerns.

The Healing Foundation have also provided the tips below:

  • Acknowledge the impact of racism on ourselves and others. Racism has an impact on physical and mental health, and is a source of trauma. Knowing this and be aware of the stressors and symptoms can help us to understand what is happening, manage the effect and help others.
  • Being mindful, implementing mindfulness and meditation techniques such as deep breathing and awareness techniques can help us to ground and manage symptoms. Staying connected, it is normal to experiences feelings of increased isolation as a symptom of racial stress. Participating in social activities with family and friends and talking with people can help.
  • Take care of our health. Eating well and exercising are important ways that we can help to keep our minds and bodies strong. Little things like going for a walk with a friend or learning to cook a new meal are small and simple acts that can help keep us strong.
  • Speak your truth. Don’t feel obligated to contribute to a conversation if the content is stressful for you. Feel free to say “This conversation is making me uncomfortable, I would like to excuse myself” or change the subject.
  • Culture is strength. Practicing culture through activities like connecting to country or creating art are powerful ways that we can process our experiences in a safe environment and find strength when our reserves are running low.

To view the National Indigenous Times article Wellbeing for Mob, leading up to and following the referendum in full click here.

artwork of ATSI women hands in air surrounding by 5 faces representing a range of emotions from sad to happy

Artwork from National Centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Wellbeing Research. Image source: National Indigenous Times.

Aboriginal Hearing Unit for women in custody

In an Australian first, an Aboriginal Healing Unit has opened at the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre (DPFC) providing new culturally safe, community-led and trauma-informed programs for Aboriginal women in custody. Victoria’s Minister for Corrections Enver Erdogan visited the Centre to open the new unit which includes specially designed accommodation alongside culturally appropriate spaces.

The Andrews Labor Government has invested $8.8m for the new unit and programs which will be delivered by ACCO Elizabeth Morgan House. The new facilities include a sensory room, activities room with facilities for art programs, a peaceful outdoor cultural area with art-inspired screening and native plantings, and a yarning circle featuring symbolic mosaics and a fire pit area.

You can read Minister Erdogan’s media release Australian-first Aboriginal Healing Unit in a prison opens in full here.

You can also read Deafness Forum Australia’s November 2022 report Closing the Gap: Addressing the hearing health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples in the Criminal Justice System here. The report’s preface says “Today, there is a particular pressing need to specifically address the high rates of hearing loss of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in contact with the criminal justice system, with rates as high as 80–95% in some communities. The Australian Law Reform Commission (2017) report Pathways to Justice–Inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, estimated that the annual economic burden of the incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was nearly $8b, with that figure expected to rise to over $20b without appropriate intervention.

legs & torsos of ATSI women prisoners, green uniforms

Indigenous women make up a third of all female prisoners. Image source: ABC News.

Poor mental wellbeing biggest problem for youth

Poor mental health and excessive screen time are the biggest problems facing young people, according to a new survey of more than 2,000 Australian teachers. Braemar College year 11 student Alanah has noticed more stress and anxiety among her peers, as they cope with growing pressures from home and elsewhere. “[There have been] more noticeable moments where people are upset at school,” she said.

Her observations have been backed by a national survey of teachers, which found the vast majority believe poor mental health is the biggest problem confronting young people today. A 2023 Beyond Blue survey found only one in three teachers believed students at their school were mentally healthy. And the percentage of teachers who thought their schools were mentally healthy also fell from 50% in 2022, to just 40% this year. Of the 2,369 teachers surveyed, about nine in 10 said high staff turnover was affecting their wellbeing, and close to 80% believed it was impacting their students.

Schools across the country will soon have access to new mental health resources to improve student wellbeing and help them access support. The new resources from the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Reporting Authority (ACARA) weave mental wellbeing lessons into other subjects like English and the humanities. “We don’t want students to think the only time we’re talking about the importance of mental health and wellbeing is when they walk into a class and timetable that has health and physical education on it,” ACARA’s curriculum director Sharon Foster said. ACARA developed the new resources with the National Mental Health Commission, Beyond Blue, Headspace and teachers from across Australia.

To view the ABC News article Teachers say poor mental health, excessive screen time, the biggest problems facing young people in full click here.

7 teenage ATSI students in uniform walking in line smiling, school outdoor walkway

Image source: Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Students webpage of Independent Schools Australia website.

Sector Jobs

Sector Jobs – you can see sector job listings on the NACCHO website here.

Advertising Jobs – to advertise a job vacancy click here to go to the NACCHO website current job listings webpage. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to find a Post A Job form. You can complete this form with your job vacancy details – it will then be approved for posting and go live on the NACCHO website.

Key Date – Dementia Action Week – 18–24 September 2023

During this year’s Dementia Action Week – 18–24 September 2023 NACCHO is sharing a range of information and resources that may be of use to the ACCHO sector.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) Dementia in Australia webpage, available here, looks at understanding dementia among Indigenous Australia. It says experiences of dementia and awareness of risk factors for developing dementia vary greatly among Indigenous Australians, as with non-Indigenous Australians, however, as long as dementia doesn’t affect connection to family, community, and culture, many Indigenous Australians perceive the condition as a natural part of life and not necessarily a medical problem that needs to be fixed. According to Mr Eric Deeral, Chairperson, Elders Justice Group, Hopevale Community, Queensland “The causes of Aboriginal dementia in Gugu Yimithurr culture is part of a natural process. The body, mind and spirit naturally get older including the brain… It may not need to get fixed as long as the individual is safe and the family and the community is safe there may not be any need to do anything at all.”

You can find out more information about Dementia Action Week 2023 on the Dementia Australia website here. You can also watch the below video Love in the Time of Dementia – it is one of a series of videos and other resources, available here, developed by Dementia Australia for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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