MHCC Mental Health Rights Manual

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Chapter 8 Section B: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and mental health conditions

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, like other Australians, have community and family members who have been diagnosed with mental health conditions.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are generally disadvantaged in Australian society. This is reflected in the level of poverty in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and in their poor access to basic services, including health services.

This section highlights those mechanisms and services that are available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that work to maximise their equitable access to mental health care, treatment, and support in NSW.

You will find information on: Racial discrimination

8B.1: Racial discrimination and Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islander peoples

If you are discriminated against when you are trying to get services (including health services), you can use anti-discrimination law to complain about it, possibly to get compensation, and prevent it happening again. 

If the discrimination is because of your mental health condition, click here to find out more about what you can do.

If the discrimination is because you are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, this is called racial discrimination.

There are two laws that apply to racial discrimination that happens in NSW:

  • The Racial Discrimination Act 1977 (Cth) that applies to discrimination that happens anywhere in Australia, including NSW; and
  • The Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW) that applies to discrimination that happens in NSW.

These laws make it unlawful to discriminate against a person because of their race in a range of areas of life, such as work, service provision, housing, and education.

There are similar laws in each state and territory, some of which are called anti-discrimination laws, others of which are called equal opportunity laws. You can find out more about these laws through the links to state and territory bodies under the heading ‘State and Territory Anti-discrimination and Equal Opportunity Agencies’ on the links page on the Australian Human Rights Commission's website.

In NSW, the Anti-Discrimination Board (ADB) investigates racial discrimination complaints made under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), and tries to resolve such complaints by conciliating (or mediating) an agreement between the person who has made the complaint and the person or organisation against whom the complaint has been made. If no agreement is reached, then the ADB may refer the matter to the Administrative and Equal Opportunity Division of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal for determination by an independent Tribunal.

The ADB has Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff members who deal with education, enquiries, complaints and conciliations involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. More information is available on the Anti-Discrimination Board's website or through the Anti-Discrimination Board's enquiries line on 1800 670 812*.

At a national level, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is responsible for dealing with complaints of discrimination under the Racial Discrimination Act 1977 (Cth). Like the ADB, the AHRC tries to resolve such complaints by conciliating an agreement between the parties to the complaint. If an agreement cannot be reached, the AHRC terminates the complaint, and the complainant then has the option of making an application to the Federal Circuit Court of Australia or the Federal Court of Australia for determination of the complaint.

The AHRC also has a specific race discrimination unit and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Unit that undertake policy and advocacy activities in relation to race discrimination and social justice for indigenous peoples.

Click here for information about racial discrimination from the Australian Human Rights Commission and from the Anti-Discrimination Board.

*Remember, mobile phone calls to freecall numbers (numbers starting with 1800) are charged to the caller at the usual mobile rate.

8B.2: Why is it important to consider culture in relation to Aborginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health?

For all peoples, no matter what culture or race, mental health healing and wellbeing are the result of a range of factors including social setting, environment and developmental factors. The way mental illness is expressed by a person - their symptoms and behaviours - can also be affected by these factors.

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, there are high levels of - distress, trauma, grief and loss associated with colonisation and their dispossession of land, and from the removal of children. The high levels of imprisonment of Aboriginal men and women, and young persons of both sexes, in juvenile and adult correctional facilities is frequently a reflection of the poor health, injustice and oppression, racism and exclusion still alive in Australia’s society.

Current statistics indicate there are much higher levels of poor physical health and mental illness among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population than in the general community across Australia.

Providing effective services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people requires an understanding of Aboriginal culture and an ability to provide services in a ‘culturally competent’ or ‘culturally secure’ way. The key characteristics of any program that claims to be culturally competent or secure is that there is active involvement of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people in the design, management and delivery of the service.

Culturally competent or secure services are based in a genuine understanding of the history of Australian Aboriginal peoples and the impact of that history on contemporary life experience. They recognise and work respectfully within Aboriginal community and family structures utilising culturally appropriate entry points, communication methods and timeframes.

Although staff of all services can benefit from, and ought to, undertake cultural competency training to build their capacity to provide appropriate assistance to Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal individuals.

There is no substitute for the active involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in both the management and service delivery of mental health services, as well as the development of programs and services.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ mental health must be considered within a broader or holistic context of personal health and well-being. It must be approached in its social and emotional context. It must recognise that mental ill-health is the product of personal and cultural oppression, racism, social and environmental deprivation, violence, trauma, grief and loss.

8B.3: Mental health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

There are specific services available to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experiencing mental health conditions in NSW:

To find information about health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in NSW follow this link to the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council of NSW website.

8B.3.1: Aboriginal Mental Health Workers in NSW

The NSW Government’s response to the mental health needs of Aboriginal people includes having specialist Aboriginal Mental Health Workers (including specialist child and adolescent workers) employed in Community Mental Health Services and Aboriginal Medical Services.

Aboriginal Mental Health Workers work to break down barriers and increase the accessibility of mainstream mental health services for Aboriginal people and to enhance the cultural competency and cultural awareness of these services. They work alongside other mental health professionals to improve cross-cultural communication and reduce cross-cultural misunderstanding and conflict. If you want to locate an Aboriginal Mental Health Worker in your area contact your local Community Mental Health Service or your local Aboriginal Medical Service.

Telephone the Mental Health Line at 1800 011 511 a 24 hour service to help you find your local community mental health service*

For other useful information click here.

Click here to find your local Aboriginal Medical Service.

Click here to read the NSW Government's NSW Aboriginal Mental Health and Well Being Policy.

*Remember, mobile phone calls to freecall numbers (numbers starting with 1800) are charged to the caller at the usual mobile rate.

8B.3.2: Indigenous Disability Advocacy Service

The Indigenous Disability Advocacy Service (IDAS) is an independent Aboriginal community controlled non-government organisation funded by the NSW Government to provide individual advocacy support to Aboriginal people with disability, their families and carers living in western Sydney and regional areas in NSW. IDAS can assist indigenous people to resolve problems, challenge unfair treatment, and make decisions about important issues.

Phone: (02) 4722 3524
E-mail: idas@idas.org.au
Address: 127 Lethbridge Street
Penrith. NSW. 2750
Website: http://www.idas.org.au/

8B.3.3: Aboriginal Disability Network NSW

The Aboriginal Disability Network NSW (ADN) is an Aboriginal community managed non-government organisation that facilitates self-help, mutual support and provides systemic advocacy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with disability living in NSW and their families and carers. The website identifies a number of other services including ADN regional offices, rights and advocacy; disability services information/referral and other useful contacts.

Phone: (02) 8399 0881
Fax: (02) 8399 1664
Email: enquiries@adnnsw.org.au
Address: Suite 402/161 Redfern Street
Redfern NSW 2016
Website: www.adnnsw.org.au

*Remember, mobile phone calls to freecall numbers (numbers starting with 1800) are charged to the caller at the usual mobile rate.

8B.4: Stolen Generation issues: counselling and tracking down lost relatives

In 1997, the Australian Human Rights Commission reported on its National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families in a report entitled Bringing them home.This report highlighted the tragedy of the Stolen Generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children forcibly removed from their families.

Some of the children involved were adopted; others were made wards of the State. Many past wards of the State or adopted children want to find their birth parents. Many birth parents who had their children removed or gave up their children want to make contact with those children.

Link Up NSW helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples find lost relatives. Link Up provides counselling, research and support services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are trying to find lost relatives or have made contact with lost relatives.

Link Up NSW has a webpage about where to find information about lost members of your family if you are an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, click here to go to the webpage.

Link Up can be contacted at:

Freecall: 1800 624 332*
Phone: (02) 4759 1911
Fax: (02) 4759 2607
E-mail: linkup@nsw.link-up.org.au
Postal address: PO Box 93
LAWSON NSW 2783
Street address: 5 Wallis Street
LAWSON NSW
Website: http://www.linkupnsw.org.au/

The Australian Government Department of Health funds counselling services for Aboriginal people who are members of the Stolen Generation through its Social and Emotional Well-being Program. Counselling services are located in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations and are provided free of charge.

To find out more about the Social and Emotional Well-being Program and to find a local Social and Emotional Well-being Program counsellor closest to you follow this link.  There are a range of other services that can help you to find relatives with whom you have lost contact because of their adoption or removal as wards. Click here to find out more.

You can also get information about adoptions and family history resources. To find out more about how to do this, click here.

* Remember, mobile phone calls to freecall numbers (numbers starting with 1800) are charged to the caller at the usual mobile rate.

8B.4.1: Services that help to find family members

As well as Link Up , the Salvation Army has a Special Search Service that helps to find lost relatives who were either adopted or made wards of the State. Click here for more information about the Salvation Army's Special Search Service.

The NSW Benevolent Society has a Post Adoption Resource Centre that provides information, counselling and a range of other services to anyone affected by adoption in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. Click here to go to the website of the Benevolent Society's Post Adoption Resource Centre.

These services are free. There are, however, businesses that charge money to try to find lost relatives. As with other services, you should always get a quote for the likely cost before you agree to use such a service.

To find out how to get information about past adoptions and wards of the State, click here .

8B.4.2: Information about past adoptions and wards of the State

In the past, information about adoptions was not available because of privacy concerns. Now this information is available to adults who were adopted (18 years and over) and the birth parents of adults who were adopted.

This information is available from the Adoption Information Unit, Community Services NSW:

Phone: 1300 799 023*
Fax: (02) 9716 3400
E-mail: adoption.information@community.nsw.gov.au
Street address: 4-6 Cavill Avenue
ASHFIELD NSW
Postal address: Locked Bag 4028
ASHFIELD NSW 2131
Website: http://www.community.nsw.gov.au/parents_carers_and_families/fostering_and_adoption/adoption.html

Former wards of the State are entitled to access documents about their period in care at no cost from Community Services NSW.

If you live in NSW, this can be done through your nearest Community Services Centre. Click here to find your nearest Community Services Centre.

If you live outside NSW, you need to write to the Freedom of Information Unit, Community Services NSW to ask for the records:

Phone: (02) 9716 2662
Fax: (02) 9716 3400
Street address: 4-6 Cavill Ave
ASHFIELD NSW
Postal address: Locked Bag 4028
ASHFIELD NSW 2131

To find out more about how Community Services NSW can help you if you are a former ward of the State, click here.

*Remember, mobile phone calls to freecall numbers (numbers starting with 1800) and to Local call numbers (numbers starting with 13 or 1300) are charged to the caller at the usual mobile rate.

 DISCLAIMER

  • The legal and other information contained in this Section is up to date to 30 January 2015
  • This Manual only refers to the law and practices applying to the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) - unless it states otherwise.
  • MHCC does not guarantee the accuracy nor is responsible for the content or the currency of the content of external documents and websites linked to this Manual.