18 May 2020

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) leaders call for Indigenous mental health and suicide prevention helpline

Responding to the National Cabinet announcement of $48.1m to support a National Mental Health and Wellbeing Pandemic Response Plan including an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ mental health and social and emotional wellbeing pandemic response plan to be developed and implemented through Indigenous leadership, Indigenous leaders look forward to positive changes.

Indigenous mental health and suicide prevention leaders specifically called for an Indigenous phone help line, operated under Indigenous leadership and with Indigenous counsellors and mental health practitioners available 24/7. The time to close the Indigenous helpline gap is now. Indigenous people have long been challenged by mental health difficulties at higher rates than the general population. And the current COVID – 19 pandemic has only identified increasing needs in our Indigenous communities.

Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA) Chair Ms Tania Dalton said:

Many people think an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) phone helpline already exists, but in fact it’s a major gap in the mental health space. AIPA have identified and long called for such a helpline and want this gap to close, as there has never been a more acute need than now.

Even though social isolation is easing, tens of thousands Indigenous people including Elders and those who are vulnerable to the virus due to chronic disease are still having to live with social distancing and – with the threat of second and third waves – the prospect of returning to isolation. For them, anxiety, loneliness, cumulative trauma, and depression have never been a greater challenge. To be able to access culturally safe Indigenous mental health support by calling a helpline and speaking to an Indigenous person has never been more important.

In 2014, AIPA began working on helpline proposals that were released in 2016 as ‘Call a Cuz’. AIPA call on Australian Governments to reconsider the proposal, or one like it, and work with AIPA and other Indigenous mental health and suicide prevention leaders to develop an Indigenous helpline as a matter of urgency.

Australian governments need to work with AIPA, Centre for Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention (CBPATSISP), Gayaa Dhuwi (Proud Spirit) Australia and other Indigenous stakeholders, in the wellbeing, mental health and suicide prevention space to develop a helpline as soon as possible. This may require a workforce training plan and other elements, and collectively we are more than capable of rising to these challenges with adequate funding.

UWA Centre for Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention (CBPATSISP) National Director, Professor Pat Dudgeon commented:

In these times of Coronavirus isolation and lockdown measures our community members in remote, rural and urban settings are very vulnerable and have limited access to professional support yet have elevated levels of anxiety, depression and cumulative trauma. Mental health experts are predicting that suicide rates will raise by 50%.

Like AIPA, CBPATSISP have long advocated for an indigenous phone help line as part of a wider response to Indigenous suicide. Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, we were working productively with Lifeline to that end, and produced a report “Wellbeing and Healing Through Connection and Culture” that Identified the need for a dedicated Indigenous tele-counselling help line /service to support our people when they require culturally safe mental and emotional wellbeing support.

For more information on AIPA
For more information on CBPATSISP

For media enquiries and interview requests, please contact Ms Tania Dalton and Professor Pat Dudgeon via Layla on 0449 558 290.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, you can contact your local Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisation or:

NACCHO Online list of Indigenous health services and contact details Google NACCHO, click Members menu tab
Beyondblue Free, confidential – speak to a mental health professional 1300 22 46 36
Lifeline Free, confidential 24-hour crisis support telephone service 131 114
Kids Helpline Free, confidential support line for young people ages 5 to 25 1800 551 800
e-headspace Free, confidential online support for young people Google eheadspace
1800-RESPECT Free, confidential 24/7 support – assault, family violence, abuse 1800 737 732