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National Mental Health Commission visits Territory to check up on Mental Health

18 June 2015

The National Mental Health Commission will today visit the Danila Dilba Health Service as part of a three-day trip to the Northern Territory to explore issues relations to rural, regional, remote and Indigenous mental health and suicide prevention issues.

Commission Chair Professor Allan Fels said the visit was an important opportunity for Commissioners to meet with Territory mental health care practitioners, service users and community members and gain firsthand insights into the issues they face.

“The Commission’s Review into mental health programmes and services, released in April, found a high unmet need for access to mental health services for people living in regional, rural and remote areas of Australia, including farmers and fly-in-fly-out workers and especially for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” Prof. Fels said.

Prof Fels said the Commission has made a number of recommendations to government to address the situation, including a greater focus on prevention and early intervention in mental health and suicide prevention. 

“This is important because it means we have an opportunity to put our money in the right place now, and for the future, so that all Australians achieve the best possible mental health and wellbeing. By doing so, we can catch people before they fall and enable them to participate as fully as possible as members of thriving communities, in employment, in stable accommodation, avoiding a lifetime of disability and poverty,” Prof. Fels said.

As part of today’s agenda, National Mental Health Commissioner Prof. Pat Dudgeon will facilitate a yarning session with Aboriginal elders and other representatives from communities in Darwin, Katherine, Maningrida and Elcho Island.

“By every measure, Indigenous mental health is significantly worse than that of other Australians. It’s time Indigenous Australians had a dedicated mental health plan to close this gap,” Prof. Dudgeon said.

“That’s why the Commission’s Review recommends a dedicated Indigenous mental health plan based on the renewed National Strategic Framework for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Social and Emotional Wellbeing,” she said.

Prof. Dudgeon said an Indigenous mental health plan would aim to close mental health service gaps by providing culturally appropriate specialist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health services, much needed social and emotional wellbeing and mental health teams in Aboriginal Medical Services, and ensuring general population mental health services are accessible and able to work effectively with Indigenous Australians.

The Commissioners arrived in Darwin on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, travelled to Elcho Island to meet with the local community and health care professionals at the Miwatj Aboriginal Health Corporation in Galiwin’ku.

Danila Dilba Health Service is an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation providing culturally-appropriate, comprehensive primary health care and community services to Biluru people in the Yilli Rreung region of the Northern Territory, where clinics are guided by an ‘Aboriginal health practitioner first’ policy, so patients will be seen by an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Health Practitioner before a doctor.

On Friday, Commissioners will hear about the challenges of remote mental health care from the Malabam Health Board Aboriginal Corporation, Beyondblue and Anglicare Way Back Support Service (NT) and learn more about the Territory’s Suicide Prevention Strategic Action Plan.

"Even the most disadvantaged Australians should be able to lead a 'contributing life,' whatever that means for them and this simple goal will be our touchstone and yardstick."

Chair Prof Allan Fels AO
National Mental Health Commission

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