Put mental health on the agenda to ‘close the gap’

Psychologists are calling for more focus on the mental health and wellbeing of Indigenous people on International Close the Gap Day.

"There has been little mention of the mental health issues of Indigenous people in the public debate about mental health over the past 12 months," said Mr Glenn Williams, incoming Chairperson of the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA). "Yet the suicide rate within some age groups of Indigenous people is up to four times that of the non-Indigenous population and research shows that Indigenous people are under extreme social and emotional pressure."

Established in 2008, AIPA is the national body representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychologists in Australia and is committed to improving the social and emotional wellbeing and mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals, families and communities.

Glenn Williams, the state mental health coordinator for the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of New South Wales, succeeds the founding chairperson of AIPA, Associate Professor Pat Dudgeon, this month. He is also a current member of the Close the Gap Campaign steering committee.

Mr Williams said institutionalised racism - whereby Indigenous people have reduced access to educational and employment opportunities, health services and housing - is a major contributor to mental health problems. He said: "You can't really address the health problems of Indigenous people without addressing their social and emotional wellbeing."

A key principle of the Close the Gap campaign is that Indigenous people should be part of policies and programmes to improve the health and wellbeing of their own people.

"We need to restore Indigenous people's connections to community, family, the land and their spirituality because research has shown those things underpin wellbeing, and we need to eliminate the discrimination that erodes people's lives and keeps them marginalised."

"Complex cultural and historical issues affect the wellbeing of Indigenous people, and Indigenous psychologists can assist to close the gap in mental health by providing their expertise and understanding of these," Mr Williams said. "But there are so few of us, we need culturally competent non-Indigenous mental health professionals as well."

For media enquiries, or to request an interview with Glenn Williams, please contact Judith Heywood or Karen Coghlan on 0435 896 444.



The Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association, which operates under the auspices of the Australian Psychological Society, is the national body representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander psychologists in Australia. Initiated in 2008, it has 45 members and advocates for equitable participation of Indigenous people within psychology, with the aim of increasing the Indigenous psychology workforce to representative population levels. As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders constitute 2.5 per cent of the Australian population, a total of 624 psychologists would be required to achieve parity within the profession. For more information, visit www.indigenouspsychology.com.au.

The Australian Psychological Society is the largest the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 19,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to peoples' lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing. For more information, visit www.psychology.org.au.