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RACGP calls for urgent action to support health of Australia’s youth

23 August, 2016

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males are experiencing the highest rate of youth suicide in the world and health outcomes for all young Australians - particularly the disadvantaged - are falling.

These disturbing results are revealed in a recent report Australian Youth Development Index 2016.

Commenting on the report, Dr Frank R Jones, president of The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners said that for GPs the report re-enforced the central concept that health risks not only affect a young person’s current state of health but also their health in years to come.

The other main health risk-related issues identified for youth between the ages of 15 and 29 years included alcohol, illicit drugs, sexually transmitted infections, obesity and mental illness.

"The report describes very worrying health trends among Australia’s youth and without urgent policy action to improve contextual social support systems and preventive healthcare services, it will get worse," Dr Jones said.

The report, providing a snapshot of Australia’s 6.3 million young people aged between 10 and 29 years, reveals a significant decline in health and wellbeing since 2006, bucking the trend of other indicators which have seen positive increases such as educational attainment, employment opportunities and political engagement.

In addition to Indigenous disadvantage, marked disparities were found between urban and rural groups confirming inequities in health access and outcomes widening gaps for both groups.

"Whilst globally this report showed Australia had comparatively high youth development, it is clear there remains uneven results for our most disadvantaged young people confirming inequalities in social and health practices.

"We need to do more in terms of prevention and service responsiveness, particularly in areas of mental health care and drug abuse issues," Dr Jones said.

"GPs play a crucial role in the provision of mental health services for all Australians but particularly so in rural and remote areas where there are less resources."

RACGP Rural has been at the forefront in providing the necessary educational supports in the mental health arena, for our GP members who sometimes work in extremely challenging conditions.

Dr Jones said the RACGP is committed to raising awareness of the health needs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and is a key signatory to the Close the Gap campaign.

"It is totally unacceptable that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are experiencing the highest rate of youth suicide in the world among young Indigenous men aged 25-29.

"Improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is one of Australia’s highest health priorities and a whole-of-system reflection is urgently needed."

The absence of an indicator around mental wellness limited the results in the report and needs capturing in future studies to help guide more supportive policy action in adolescent health interventions.

The RACGP believes in the equitable provision of health services and the discrepancy between health outcomes for youth in rural and urban areas, and youths of Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is unacceptable.

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