Culturally Appropriate Mental Health Care Is Vital For Indigenous Youth Right Now

"Our First Nations people have historically experienced unacceptable levels of inequitable access to these services".

Culturally appropriate mental health

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Between the pandemic, intergenerational trauma, systemic racism, and institutional disadvantage — mental health concerns for First Nations communities need to be addressed now more than ever.

— Content Warning: This article contains discussion of suicide. — 

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has recorded a 31 percent increase in psychological distress for Indigenous adults. At the same time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth aged between 15 and 24 are nearly four times more likely to commit suicide than non-Indigenous people of the same age, according to NITV.

Reframing mental health care through a decolonised lens driven for and by Indigenous voices is the path forward to ensure sensitivity is delivered from diagnosis through to treatment and care. Psychologist and Palawa woman Jodi Jones told Junkee that culturally appropriate access to basic services is one of the biggest challenges impacting Indigenous youth mental health right now.

“Our First Nations people have historically experienced unacceptable levels of inequitable access to these services,” she said, describing the current options as an ‘invisible inequity’. “There is a lack, and significant lag time of young people having access to culturally appropriate health care services in Australia — in every state and territory”.

Jones personally pursued her profession after the tragic death of her late uncle in custody, explaining the devastating impact the loss had on her family that led her to want to create outward change.

She recently became the first Indigenous Tasmanian to graduate with a psych degree and hopes to see more mob across her field and broader health areas.

“Indigenous psychologists have the lived experiences of the real issues and disparities that have existed, and continue within our communities,” Jones said. “We are the best equipped to deal with Indigenous issues with Indigenous perspectives”.

For people struggling at the moment, talking about what’s going on is a vital first step, Jones said. “Seek help from someone in your community, and access support through your nearest Aboriginal health services.”

“If that first person you speak to is not the right fit for you, do not give up — keep searching until you find someone who is! You are not alone”.

Lockdowns, rising cases in the community, and vaccination concerns add to a sense of isolation during COVID, but “through staying connected we keep our spirits and each other strong,” Jones continued.

“We have proven that we are the strongest continuing culture in the world. It is our resilience and strength that we have when we work together, that gets us through the barriers that we have overcome, and in current challenging times”.

Photo Credit: AIATSIS