Indigenous youth mental healthcare research

The declining mental health rates of Indigenous Australians have been of particular concern to Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations in diverse communities, who have partnered with CQUniversity researchers to develop new responses to the high and increasing rates of Indigenous youth mental health problems.

Indigenous youth mental healthcare research


Yarrabah has close to 4,000 people in the community, but almost half of them are young. They're at least under the age of 23 years. Our young people in Yarrabah have a lot of strengths, but there's also a considerable level of undetected or undiagnosed stress, anxiety and even depression. There's a real unmet need for our young people so therefore their mental health and wellbeing support in the services that we deliver.

They could be struggling, don’t know how to handle the situation. You could feel down and when you feel down you could put the stress on everyone else because they would be worried about you. Our leaders in the community have been working for many years to try and improve these services but it really baffles me that we've not been able to get it right, the actual model for our youth is something we still need to develop, and we need the youth voice. In discussions with CQU, we've identified that this is important to hear the words from the youth so that we can improve the availability, the appropriateness and integration of our services and the support so that we can help them in their struggles.

It’s good to, like, talk, I don’t really talk that much, but yeah. So, following the discussions with Ruth, we partnered with Gurriny Yealamucka Health Service here in Yarrabah and two other primary healthcare services, and an Indigenous youth empowerment group. Taking a place-based approach, we hosted yarning circles and consultations where we asked them their stories about the current state of mental health and wellbeing services, and to give their suggestions about how these could be improved.

It’s so important that we all come together to raise a child. That we all do our part. It’s important that we stand together, we wrap the services around this community.

Hearing these stories and working directly with the community helps us to conceptualise, co-design and evaluate community-driven, systems-level integration. There are 16 Australian government policy documents that were published between 2013 and 2018 that outline the need for improved mental health and social and emotional wellbeing, but the problem is that there is little evidence for what best-practice looks like, or how current services and systems can be improved to provide optimal care. Our long-term objective and hope for our research is to enhance communities’ preventive and early intervention mental healthcare responses in the future.

Thanks to funding from the NHMRC and an Advance Queensland fellowship, we will continue to work in collaboration over the five-year project, with findings suggesting continued engagement between Indigenous youth and community-based service providers is vital. We have the leadership here to do that, but it’s also ok that we do it over time because, as we do it over time, we need to make sure, and ensure that, we get it right.