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Improving mental health for all


The disproportionate risk of poor mental health for First Nations people, refugees and asylum seekers has been highlighted by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference in its annual Social Justice Statement released last month.

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Coinciding with Social Justice Sunday on August 30, the statement To Live Life to the Full: Mental health in Australia today encourages faith communities, governments and individuals to make mental health a priority.

It points out that the death rate from intentional self-harm is twice as high for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as for non-Indigenous Australians and says there is a pressing need for collaborative and culturally appropriate mental health services with better linkages to the criminal justice system.

“Social and economic disadvantage is a cause of higher levels of mental illness amongst our Indigenous sisters and brothers,” the statement says.

“Behind this disadvantage lies the history of dispossession, which is itself the cause of intergenerational trauma.”

Criticising the Federal Government’s decision to resume its offshore processing of asylum seekers in 2012, the bishops ask how “we as a nation have spent around $1 billion a year to establish and run offshore detention centres that we know breach key international human rights obligations…”.

“Detaining people in inhumane conditions and refusing them resettlement in order to send a message to people traffickers treats vulnerable people as a means to an end,” the statement says.

“The damage done in the meantime has compounded their trauma and mental ill-health.

“The policy seems aimed at breaking their spirits, but it does the rest of us spiritual harm as well.”

Bishop Terry Brady, Bishop Delegate for Social Justice on the Bishops Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service, called on all Catholics to take up the message and challenges of the statement.

“This is a timely message in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic is affecting many members of our parishes, schools and communities,” Bishop Brady said.

“The personal feelings of anxiety and despair we all share at this time provide an opportunity to become more aware and active in fostering the mental health of all. Understanding mental health will help us to be aware of those who most need our support.”

The statement encourages parishes and local communities to be places of welcome and inclusion, overcoming the barriers and stigma often faced by people experiencing mental ill-health. It demands the commitment of governments and policy-makers to prevent so many people falling through the cracks of the mental health system.

“Our society tends to push away or draw away from those who confront us with our frailties and limitations. This is not the way of Jesus,” Bishop Brady said.

“Let us follow him in drawing near to those who are experiencing mental ill-health and acknowledge that they are members of the Body of Christ – ‘they’ are part of ‘us’. Only then can we say ‘we are all in this together’. Only then can we ‘live life to the full’.”

The statement can be downloaded from



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