Australian mental health service planning can be better tailored to meet the unique needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, a Queensland Centre for Mental Health Research (QCMHR) study has shown.

The study identified eight key service areas that can be targeted when planning mental health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, namely: assessment; care coordination; family and carer involvement and support; specified workforce; holistic primary care teams; staffing for inpatient care; integrating culture; and earlier support for behavioural and psychological symptoms of dementia.

The findings were the culmination of a review of the academic literature, consultation with representatives from urban Indigenous mental health services and Torres Strait Islander communities, and expert input from a panel of health service providers from Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS), public mental health services, and mental health advocates with lived experience.

QCMHR Research Officer, Imogen Page, led the study as part of her PhD at the University of Queensland’s School of Public Health.

She said the study aimed to determine service components that are key to improving mental health services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and then translate those key components into modelling rules proposed for use within the National Mental Health Service Planning Framework.

“The National Mental Health Service Planning Framework outlines the quantity and types of services that should be available to provide good mental health care for a population and is used by many Australian governments and Primary Health Networks to assist with planning for mental health services,” Ms Page said.

“This study is the first step towards developing a nationally consistent tool that will enable mental health service planners to account for the specific service needs of Indigenous people within the Framework.

“Though the work sounds complex, what we are proposing are targeted changes to the planning and resourcing of mental health services to ensure they are better tailored for Indigenous people.

“For example, in the component of mental health assessments, appropriate care for Indigenous people with mental health would factor in more time for assessment, more frequent contact with patients during assessment, and where possible, for assessments to be provided by Indigenous primary care teams who are properly resourced to do the job.”

Experts consulted throughout the study also urged other factors to be considered when implementing service reforms, including cultural awareness, workforce considerations, and kinship relations.

Ms Page said that these factors are critically important to improve cultural safety and access to care.

“To improve care for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with mental health conditions, mental health services need to ensure staff have cultural awareness, an understanding of local community beliefs and customs, and are able to provide culturally appropriate treatment,” she said.

“It is also important to increase the numbers of Indigenous staff where possible, including Indigenous medial workers and peer workers with lived experience.

“Finally, particularly for people with severe disorders, the panel told us loud and clear that mental health services need to move away from individualised approaches to mental health treatment in favour of adopting approaches that engage with family.

“This is because Indigenous kinship relations are very different from those of other cultural backgrounds, and family involvement in care may be critical for treatment success.”

The study, Modelling mental health service needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples: a review of existing evidence and expert consensus, was published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health on 3 January, 2022 and derived from original research conducted for the National Mental Health Service Planning Framework project funded by the Australian Government Department of Health and all Australian state and territory health departments.

Contact: Kate Gadenne, 0438 727 895,

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