Journal article

Koori voices: self-harm, suicide attempts, arrests and substance use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adolescents following residential treatment

Indigenous mental health Indigenous health Indigenous incarceration Australia

Over-representation in correctional centres and high rates of youth detention reinforce deep wounds created by deliberate removal of children from families under past policies. These ‘Stolen Generations’ have significantly higher alcohol and drug use, post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses with inadequate resources for therapeutic care than the general Australian population.

Objective: This study examines whether an ‘holistic’ residential drug and alcohol treatment program for adolescents, with over 30% of clients identifying as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, can improve outcomes post-discharge, including reducing self-harm, suicide attempts, arrests and alcohol and drug use.

Importance of study: Rates of self-harm, suicide and incarceration among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia are among the highest in the world and drug and alcohol treatment programs need to address these underlying complexities.

Study type: Program admission and 3 months’ post-discharge data from 2007 to 2016 were analysed.

Methods: This analysis of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people aged 13–18 years admitted to the TC from 2007 to 2016 investigates personal characteristics, drug use patterns, and experiences such as arrests, self-harm and suicide attempts before admission to the program and 3 months’ post-discharge.

Conclusion: The findings provide support for an ‘holistic’ residential treatment program as an approach to improve health and related outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people. In addition to a focus on multiple aspects of a young person’s life in treatment, culturally relevant modes of treatment and support should be a future focus to further strengthen programs when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are over-represented in the client group.

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