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Indigenous mental health – a crisis

One in five Australians aged 16 to 85 experiences a mental illness in any year. That is 20 per cent of the population.

The highest rates recorded are for depression, anxiety and substance use disorder. While anxiety can have a debilitating effect on a person’s social and work life, substance use and depression account for the highest rates of suicide or attempted suicide.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that suicides accounted for 12.6 per 100,000 deaths in Australia in 2017, which equates to eight deaths by suicide each day. For Indigenous Australians, suicides comprised 5.5 per cent of deaths, compared to 2.0 per cent for non-Indigenous people.

Indigenous people make up 3.3 per cent of the Australian population. Yet according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, they accounted for 10.9 per cent of mental-health related emergency department presentations in 2017-18; their emergency department presentation rate for mental health reasons is four times greater than other Australians.

Indigenous Australians are experiencing mental-health related disorders at a much higher rate than non-Indigenous people. It begs the question: When is the gap going to be closed?

The Medicare system provides up to five free psychology sessions for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, in any calendar year, which must be made under referral by a GP. However an Indigenous person may claim prescriptions under the Closing the Gap PBS Co-payment Measure.

Unfortunately, GPs do not necessarily have the training to diagnose more complex mental-health related disorders. A person may need to be seen by a psychiatrist, and Medicare only provides a rebate of up to 75 per cent of the cost of a visit (average cost $228).

For the sake of our Indigenous communities, and for the sake of our nation, closing the gap needs to be a priority.

Lifeline Crisis Hotline: 13 11 14

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