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Indigenous mental distress alarmingly high

6th Feb 2012
Rada Rouse   all articles by this author
Indigenous mental distress alarmingly high

RATES of anxiety, depression and psychosis among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples may be much higher than previously recognised, researchers say.

A review of surveys and publications in the medical literature showed rates of psychological distress among Indigenous people were 50% to three times higher than for non-Indigenous people.

Professor Anthony Jorm and colleagues from the Orygen Youth Health Research Centre at the University of Melbourne found the rates of very high distress scores were 10–11%.

While inequality in physical health in Australia was well known, the study uncovered “an inequality in Indigenous mental health which is evident from an early age and deserves equal attention”.

Another research study, examining treated psychosis in Indigenous people of Cape York and the Torres Strait, found a prevalence rate of 1.68% among an estimated population of nearly 16,000.

Queensland Health regional psychiatrist Professor Ernest Hunter found rates were higher among males compared to females (2.60% vs 0.89%) and among people of Aboriginal descent compared to Torres Strait Islander descent (2.05% vs 0.95%).

Schizophrenia accounted for 62% of psychosis treated, 22.8% was substance use related, and 8.2% was mood disorder related.

In addition, the prevalence of intellectual disability in the sample was 26.9%, he found. 

“[This is] substantially higher than that found in a WA study which reported a prevalence of intellectual disability in a psychiatric sample of 1.8%,” Professor Hunter wrote.

Commenting in an editorial, Northern Territory adjunct associate professor in psychiatry Robert Parker, from James Cook University, said the high rates described in the research “represents a view of mental illness at the visible tip of an iceberg of significant social and health disadvantage”.

MJA 2012; 196: 89-90; 118-21; 133-35

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