Barriers and facilitators to the utilization of adult mental health services by Australia's Indigenous people: seeking a way forward

Anton Neville Isaacs, Priscilla Pyett, Mark A Oakley-Browne, Hilton Gruis, Peter Waples-Crowe
International Journal of Mental Health Nursing 2010, 19 (2): 75-82
Mental disorders are the second leading cause of disease burden among Australia's Indigenous people after cardiovascular disease. Yet Indigenous people do not access mental health services in proportion to their need. This paper explores the barriers and facilitators for Indigenous people seeking mental health services in Australia and identifies key elements in the development and maintenance of partnerships for improved service delivery and future research. The process of seeking help for mental illness has been conceptualized as four consecutive steps starting from recognizing that there is a problem to actually contacting the mental health service. We have attempted to explore the factors affecting each of these stages. While people in the general population experience barriers across all four stages of the process of seeking treatment for a mental disorder, there are many more barriers for Indigenous people at the stage of actually contacting a mental health service. These include a history of racism and discrimination and resultant lack of trust in mainstream services, misunderstandings due to cultural and language differences, and inadequate measures to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. Further research is required to understand the mental health literacy of Indigenous people, their different perceptions of mental health and well-being, issues around stigma, and the natural history of mental illness among Indigenous people who do not access any form of professional help. Collaborations between mainstream mental health services and Aboriginal organizations have been promoted as a way to conduct research into developing appropriate services for Indigenous people.

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