Improving forensic mental health care for Aboriginal Australians: Challenges and opportunities

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Mental illnesses constitute a major burden of disease in Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders (hereafter Aboriginal Australians), who are also overrepresented in the prison system. A legacy of colonization compounds such prevalence, and is further exacerbated by the persistence of racial discrimination and insensitivity across many sectors, including health. This research completed in a Western Australian forensic mental health setting identifies non-Aboriginal health professionals' support needs to deliver high-quality, culturally-safe care to Aboriginal patients. Data were collected from health professionals using an online survey and 10 semistructured interviews. Survey and interview results found that ongoing education was needed for staff to provide culturally-safe care, where Aboriginal knowledge, beliefs, and values were respected. The findings also support previous research linking Aboriginal health providers to improved health outcomes for Aboriginal patients. In a colonized country, such as Australia, education programmes that critically reflect on power relations privileging white Anglo-Australian cultural dominance and subjugating Aboriginal knowledge, beliefs, and values are important to identify factors promoting or compromising the care of Aboriginal patients and developing a deeper understanding of ‘cultural safety’ and its clinical application. Organizational commitment is needed to translate the findings to support non-Aboriginal health professionals deliver high-quality care to Aboriginal patients that is respectful of cultural differences.

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