Mental illness plagues young Indigenous people: report

Young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more likely to be affected by serious mental illnesses than other young people, new research has indicated.

A joint report by Mission Australia and The Black Dog Institute found three in 10 – around 33 percent – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youths involved in a 2016 study met the criteria for having a probable serious mental illness.

The rate for non-Indigenous youth was 22 percent.

The Youth Mental Health Report, released on Wednesday, looked at rates of psychological distress experienced by young Australians aged 15-19 using data collected in Mission Australia’s annual Youth Surveys.

The report stated Mission Australia staff were concerned at the young age at which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had attempted to end their lives, some aged just 10 and even younger.

“Dispossession, racism, trauma, disadvantage and disconnection from culture and country as well as disengagement from education and employment are all underlying contributors to low levels of social and emotional wellbeing amongst young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, which can in turn contribute to substance misuse and suicide,” the report said.

“Addressing low levels of social and emotional wellbeing requires holistic policies and services which empower and increase the capacity of community, family and individuals to support recovery and resilience.

“Further, these solutions must be driven by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders, leaders and communities.”

The report said while non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people with a probable serious mental illness indicated they would go to friends, parents, the internet and family members for help, Indigenous youths said they would turn to telephone hotlines, community agencies or magazines.

The report said schools should play a bigger role in promoting mental health and wellbeing, including ways to cope with stress.

Online services also needed to be strengthened.

“The current findings show that the internet is a prominent source of information, advice and support for many young people, particularly those with a probable mental illness, with over half of young people with and without a probable mental illness indicating they felt comfortable with this source of support,” it said.

“The use of online technologies is increasingly playing a major role in the delivery of mental health services and supports to young people, including information, prevention, assessment, diagnosis, counselling and treatment programs targeting various conditions and levels of severity.”

But it said there needed to be more research into the role of online technology and more product development.

The Black Dog Institute is a mood disorders facility attached to the Prince of Wales Hospital in New South Wales.

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