Media release: 16 March 2017

The Australian Psychological Society (APS) is committed to closing the mental health gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians and reducing the alarming Indigenous suicide rates.  

Providing culturally responsive mental health care that respects and promotes Indigenous culture and identity is key to this commitment.

It is widely recognised that a mental health crisis exists in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, with serious psychological distress, self-harm and suicide reported at more than double the rate of other Australians.

In 2016 the APS apologised to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people for past approaches to assessment and treatment that dismissed the importance of culture in understanding and promoting Indigenous social and emotional wellbeing.

APS President Anthony Cichello advises that the next step is to ensure that the next generation of psychologists takes better account of culture when working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Leading Aboriginal psychologist and Chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership in Mental Health (NATSILMH) Professor Pat Dudgeon FAPS, agrees that building on social and emotional wellbeing and cultural strengths is the foundation for improving Indigenous health and preventing suicide.

“There is a need for more community-based, culturally appropriate mental health services that include strengthening culture and identity, and that are delivered by culturally responsive health professionals,” she says.

As a partner in the Australian Indigenous Education Project (AIPEP), the APS has worked with several universities across Australia to increase the number of Indigenous psychologists, and has developed a curriculum framework which aims to ensure Indigenous knowledge is embedded within undergraduate and postgraduate level psychology education.

Higher education providers in psychology will meet next month to discuss further how to train psychology students to be culturally responsive.

On Friday 17 March, the APS along with 22 other national allied health organisations will recommit to a Statement of Intent between Indigenous Allied Health Australia (IAHA) and Allied Health Professions Australia (AHPA) to improve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing. 

The recommitment event will take place at 3.30 – 5pm, Koorie Heritage Trust – Federation Square, Melbourne on Friday 17 March 2017.

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