Mental health needs high for indigenous

Michelle Henderson, AAP National Medical Writer

Mental health services for Aboriginal people in custody need to be developed urgently, according to a study that found most Queensland indigenous inmates suffered from a mental illness.

The Queensland Forensic Mental Health Services study of 419 indigenous men and women from six high-security prisons found that about 73 per cent of men and 86 per cent of women had a mental health disorder.

Women were more likely than men to report suffering from an anxiety, depressive or psychotic disorder, the study found.

Indigenous HealthHalf the women suffered anxiety, about a third suffered depressive disorders and 23 per cent had a psychotic disorder.

This compared with 20 per cent of men with anxiety, 11 per cent with depression and eight per cent with a psychotic disorder.

The most common anxiety disorder among men and women was post-traumatic stress and the most prevalent depression disorder was major depression.

Most men and women - 66 per cent and 69 per cent respectively - had a substance misuse disorder, usually alcohol or cannabis dependence.

"These findings highlight a critical mental health need for these individuals, both in custody and during the transition back to their communities," the report in the Medical Journal of Australia said.

"There remains an urgent need to develop and resource culturally capable mental health services for indigenous Australians in custody."

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists president Maria Tomasic said there was a shortage of culturally appropriate mental health services for indigenous people in rural and remote regions and in prisons.

Dr Tomasic said indigenous people experienced significantly higher rates of health problems and mental illness than other Australians.

"With such high rates of indigenous representation in prisons, indigenous mental health is a priority," she said.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are 14 times more likely to be jailed than non-indigenous Australians, the report said.

Meanwhile, in a letter published in the MJA, Heart Foundation clinical issues director Robert Grenfell said hospitals needed to improve care of indigenous people experiencing symptoms of heart attack.

He said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were less likely to receive the diagnostic tests and treatments they need and were therefore more likely to die of heart attack in hospital.

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